BRUNSWICK, Maine – For the last few months, my running has slowed down, thanks to an injury to my left calf. So I’ve pieced together 20- or 30-minute runs, knowing sharp pain would come at some point. I ran around the Washington Monument and the Mall with my friend Patrick. Or on the Capitol Crescent trail with Ellen and Chuck. Mostly, though, I have gone alone.
My travel, though, has increased. I’ve been to the Horn of Africa, Korea, and Mexico – all in the past month. I ran sporadically, lamenting in particular that I couldn’t run in Mogadishu.
In the last few weeks, my calf has begun to heal and I’ve started to test it, including running on dirt trails for an hour. I need to pick it up again.
I went out the morning after Thanksgiving from my parent’s snugly built pink house in Brunswick. My father showed me a route on his iPad on Google Earth. I studied it closely. My brother asked from his living room chair, ‘Don’t you ever just decide where to go as you run?’
I wish I were more impulsive. I fear getting lost when I travel because my runs almost always happen in narrow envelopes of time. Being late has consequences – like being left behind. But I also like to know where I am going. I like to think of myself as Robert Frost at a fork in the road, and maybe that will one day come true, but not now. I etched the path on Google Earth into my mind.
My father showed how I could take the road to the sea. He said that he and my mother sometimes drove to a boat launch there at the end of warm days, where they sat and drank a beer as the sun went down. “It’s a nice spot,” he said.
I stepped out into the cold air. All was white: the snow, the clouds, the sky. I tugged my hat over my ears and turned right, onto a plowed sidewalk.
Plowed in Maine is relative. A dusting of snow covered what was underneath. In the first block, I stepped unknowingly on a sheet of ice, my left leg went up in the air but I caught myself, barely. I crossed the road and I ran in the road against traffic. Maine’s road sanders are top notch.
I passed a mobile home park and thought about a life of low ceilings, small windows, and limited possibilities. I passed homes with large pick-up trucks and thought what it would be like to sit so high. And I ran alongside stands of pine trees with bowed branches cloaked with snow, a sight of beauty as well as stress.
I came to a rise and could see water ahead. I found the sign for the boat launch; the short road to it was not plowed so I hopscotched to water’s edge.
It was low tide and the water had receded to a half-mile out. The sea bed was brown. My first step onto it was firm. My second was squishy. The bed started to swallow my shoe. I pulled back and the bed made a loud sucking sound; it almost had me, it was saying. I looked around my feet and found scatterlings of the sea, broken clam shells, shiny rocks, bright green algae. I picked up a few purple-bellied shells and an orange rock and spread them on my black gloves.
I stood still, facing the sea. It was silent. Then I heard wind rushing at my back, a bird singing softly, and crows puncturing the air with calls. I closed my eyes and thought of nothing, not what had come before, not what would come soon, just the moment standing alone. Time passed and I suddenly felt chilled.