Friends and Strangers

—–Friends and Strangers—–

Little things will keep you inside. “Injured” has so many names; damaged, impaired, hurt, harmed, wounded, ruined, and none are conducive to getting you out the door. I’m not injured. I kept telling myself it is just one of those nagging little aches that intrudes into consciousness just enough to worry and distract.

That settled, I headed down the trail–walking and waiting for the first twinge. A quarter mile passed, walk turned to shuffle and off onto Humpty Dumpty, down into the kettles again. Friends and strangers are always in the kettles and the gradual drop to the old cedar is an easy warm-up. Two spotted towhees burst out of the undergrowth, looking like robins in plaid coats, still partly covered with the down that marks them as babies; they spot me and disappear back into their leaf-strewn world.Sometimes the directions were unclear to me.
Just as I make the turn to the big cedar Woody Woodpecker laughter fills the woods. It only takes a few seconds to spot the two pileated woodpeckers, crow-sized, easily the largest of the woodpeckers, their red, white, and black heads bobbing back and forth as they chisel a hole into an aging cedar. On around and down into the hole left by the big ice cube some ten or twelve thousand years ago.

Sometimes speed calls for agility, sometimes a hundred yards of six-foot tall nettles calls for agility…or do I yield to the occasional sadistic pleasure of brushing nettles to wake up tired legs. I look at the old cedar, hidden down here in the bottom. We have guessed it to be six-hundred years old. It is the only old tree down here, alders and ocean spray off to one side, a field of thimbleberries on another, a scattering of wings as this year’s generation of bushtits learn their acrobatics–the ever-still, never-still forest draws me in again.

The distraction of the birds and the rolling zigzags of High Traverse are interrupted by the awakening thought–no pain, no discomfort, no twitchies–of relaxed running. Suddenly aware of everything seeming to function as intended, I change directions and head away from the trailhead, going, instead, to Lake Pondilla. There were two ospreys there last week, not full-time residents, but frequent visitors. And the trail goes through the biggest wild blackberry thicket of the area.

The whole run falls apart as I pull-test a blackberry. If they come off easily, they are (usually) ripe. It practically falls into my hand. The newest aid station of the forest is open. I sacrifice speed for calories–gotta be able to get back to the car, doncha know. A handful or two later and I continue on to Lake Pondilla, where I find school is in session for a family of belted kingfishers. I sit on a stump in the shade and watch as mom, then dad, hovers, dives, gets a fish, goes to perch–then drops the fish back in the lake as if to say, “Now you try it.” The two newest strangers to the lake leave the branch and the Kingfisher Comedy Hour begins. They hover okay. They dive fairly well. They fail to get a fish and appear panic stricken about getting out of the water. The rattling click-click-click from mom and dad scolds and instructs. Eventually a lesson is learned and one of the kids returns to the branch with a meal.

I walk for a few hundred yards up from the lake, the warmth of the afternoon sun feels good as I go from walk to shuffle to run to…well, almost to this-feels-good-and-I-could-run-forever. The waters of Admiralty Passage are touched with whites and blues as the wind from the Straits of Juan de Fuca play with the tidal currents. A freighter with a gazillion tons of resource depletion is outbound. Two kayaks hug the shore, riding the tide back into Puget Sound. The bluff trail is wide and smooth enough to run without worrying about footing–water and mountains pull at the mind as legs and shoulders relax.

The switch-backs and shadows of Cedar Grove wake me up. Roots and turns, vines pulling at sleeves, the climb to the old men is a transition into quiet. The floor is covered with who knows how many hundreds of years of cedar needles. There are a dozen or so trees showing their age, deeply drooping branches, burls and woodpecker holes, trunks twisted and turned from centuries of seeking the sun, and always a raven to scold me for intruding, again. I mutter, “Sorry,” and turn to leave.

The trail finally straightens, then widens. Two hikers at a junction are looking at a map, each pointing in different directions. I pause. Where? Here. Where to? There. Down there, right at the first fork, left at the … at least they had a map. Gravel crunching now, the narrow gravel road has no quiet spots, but it is free of roots and I want to open the stride again, just to check–just to push a bit. It’s effort, not pace, that we want to be comfortable with when on trails. Birds and berries, waves and wind have been acknowledged, now I want to put my mind to running. It is a mile to the car. Old friends and strangers are left behind again as breathing becomes rhythmical and the running on memory returns.

———-Run gently out there———-