Friday, June 19, 2009
The sun in heaven methought, was loth to set, but stayed and made the western welkin blush. By my buddy Bill er…Shakespeare. I love running with the setting sun. Much of my time on the high school track and marathon training encompassed these hours when Earth seems to expel a long sigh before nestling in for night. The madness of man slows, children are hauled unwillingly home to sup, Maui, warrior-god, extinguishes sun in sea and Earth reclaims herself. I arrived to a honking fanfare, geese heralding the hour, as birds are wont to do. I run year round at a small reservoir, excepting when snow drives a lioness from the high country to prowl its banks and circumferential dirt track. “How do you know it’s a mountain lion?” Herb asked one February. “Look,” I squatted over its tracks. “See how round these pads are? The entire print is round. And, no toenails.” I nearly covered the print with my palm. “That’s a big cat,” I brandished my palm at him. “Look at this dog print.” I pointed to well defined tracks in mud. “See how narrow and long it is? See the shape of its pads? Plus… toenails. Keep running,” I rose and started again, “I’ll show you her cub.” We stopped to examine a pile of poop. “This is probably coyote scat, see the fur? If there were no fur, I’d say it was dog pooh. See how it’s pinched at the ends? Some of these larger dog tracks are probably coyote.” We continued our jog. “This is probably mountain lion scat. It’s more round than dog and coyote, it’s segmented, there’s fur in it and the ends aren’t pinched." “How do you know all this?” Herb was incredulous. I shrugged, “Coz I spend time in the mountains. Here’s the cub.” We stopped for a small, round paw print that remained untrampled by frenzied dogs. “That makes her super dangerous, if she’s hunting to feed a cub. So I don’t run here alone during the winter, unless it’s bright and mid-day. This is the second winter I’ve seen her tracks.” “Have you seen her?” “No, thank God. I figure if I see her, I’m a mountain lion morsel.” “Have you called Fish and Game?” “I did last year but they were only interested in sightings, not tracks.” That the reservoir abutted a high school seemed of little consequence. Guess that’s just deserts for intruding upon their habitat. Aren’t you gents just a little tardy gettin’ outta Dodge? I addressed the ganders and their flock telepathically in my first quarter mile. As if in agreement, with a rush of flapping, splashing and squawking, they began a short run-on-water that reluctantly released them to the sky. Directly in their flight path, I froze. Wet wings beat a painfully low trajectory. Would they clear the small cliff at the western lake lip? Will they clear me? Two boys fishing from the ledge turned to grin before giving full attention to the low-flying bodies. In-coming! Like zeros on-approach for strafing. The cacophony grew with proximity and pitch. Fighting the urge to duck, our heads turned in unison with geese overhead and then beyond. They circled once, as if synchronizing watches and truing their compass. Tightening their formation, they honked a flight plan en route to a north-north-westerly summer holiday. I watched until their calls faded and formation disappeared, imprinting everything the moment held: Earth washed in burnt umber, the western welkin softly aglow, insects hovering in curtains over glassy water disturbed only by feeding fish. Oppressive heat released its grip on the day and I too, sighed. A southbound airliner, glinting gold, dragged a short con-trail and my thoughts back to running. Another quarter turn round the pond and I surveyed the small inlet where four adults – two couples with six goslings glided in the gathering gloam. Are their hatchlings early or late? No matter, now they would surely stay several months before a not-so-northern latitude beckoned. I thought, and not for the first time, about mates for life. Geese are one of sparingly few animals that mate for life, a long life. In stark contrast to certain insects that mate for a life that ends even as they copulate, bringing new meaning to the words: till death do us part. All of it swirled in my head as I lapped my Walden Pond thrice more and arrived home moments before nightfall. In listening for the knock of the Eternal, dawn and dusk have always held some magic for me, a glimpse through an open doorway, if you will. In seeking connection to the Eternal, running with the setting sun is a sure bet. In having a life fulfilled and one I love, recognizing and replicating such moments are… priceless.