The Lord appeared to Abraham…as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them… He said, “…Do not pass by your servant… Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on… So they said, “Do as you have said.”… Then the men set out from there…and Abraham walked with them to see them on their way. –Genesis 18
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
--Shel Silverstein “Whatif”
Snow seldom visits us in central, mid-south so when I lift my eyes and see that it has come from afar, I like Abraham run from my tent to greet it, begging “Do not pass me by,” at least not until I can get dressed, put my gear together, leave the AC’s heat of the day and run along with the storm to see it on its way.
I left for this run in my usual hat, thinking the visor would keep the flakes off my glasses, but after a half-mile turned back for one of the wool hats 90-year-old Willie Frank gave me. Throughout the year, he knits a hat a day, giving them to relatives, friends, and homeless shelters. He has given me an orange one for hunting and a blue one for around town. I got the blue one and pulled it down over my ears.
The road past our house showed pavement only under one set of tire tracks. After the half-mile turn away from the subdivisions into the country, the road was completely covered. I listened to the phmp phmp of my steps packing footprints soon to be covered.
I had brought a cloth to clear my glasses but after a mile took them off. I could look at the gray sky, swirling snow, covered fields, and dark tree lines without being troubled by lack of clarity. A small flock of birds swirled like leaves in the wind beside then across the road. A lone bird flew low. Its wings beat in sharp, erratic angles. A couple days earlier, someone asked me if I get “a runner’s high.” I answered that I know the expression but am not sure that I get it. “I enjoy running,” I said. This might be a runner’s high, I thought, as I felt the snow against the face and ran easily in the subdued light and quiet.
After mile two, there is a right-angle turn and a run along an open field. I realized there that a tailwind had been contributing to the ease of the run—and that my last several miles would be into a headwind if I continued on the planned route. “Maybe I should shorten the run. Maybe I should reroute to have a tailwind in the last half.” I did not. A principle that I have developed over dozens of years of travel is “Stick with the planned route if the reason for doing otherwise is primarily fear of what might be—fear of the kind mentioned in my “Night Vision” post, “whatifs” like those in the Shel Silverstein poem I used to read to my children—to their smiles, to my silent self-rebukes, and to my thoughts about parenting and the children growing up.
I passed the church and continued on to Gee road, past Aileen’s fields where I have sat waiting for dawn and deer. Then through the woods before Willie Frank’s trailer on one side and his 30-acre pasture on the other. As I ran by his driveway, I saw tire tracks going into it. “Hold it, I should go back and check his door.” I knew he was not home; he was in rehab, having broken his hip two weeks ago. He has had problems with break-ins. He has a trailer now because someone had burnt down the house his father built over a hundred years ago. An old SUV was coming out as I returned, all windows covered with snow except the windshield, the wipers struggling to keep it clear. The driver rolled his window down and poked the snow away: wool hat, non-hostile eyes, a lo-ong, bushy beard.
“You know who lives here?” I asked.
“You know his name?”
“Willie. He aint here. He broke his hip.”
“Oh okay. I just wanted to make sure things were okay. I’m a friend of his. My name’s Tim.”
“That’s my name too. I’m his nephew.”
I had heard of his nephew Tim. He looks after the cows in Willie Frank’s big pasture several miles from here. We shook hands and went our ways.
Maybe I should turn around at the chicken barn, I thought as the road turned slushy with puddles I couldn’t avoid. But the feet didn’t get cold when the water soaked through. The SmartWool socks that I usually wore only with hiking boots were doing their job. Okay, no more excuses. Onward to “the beautiful mile,” my name for a straight stretch of road heading directly east, through fields with no buildings on either side. Several years ago, I turned onto this stretch just as a full moon was rising over the hills. For several minutes, without the least turn of my head, I could watch Diana rise as I ran. I recalled that warm summer evening as the crosswinds blew.
In the four miles past Willie Frank’s, the only movement in the road apart from the snow was two ATV’s driven by teenagers focused on staying on the road, the snow obscuring boundaries of edge and ditch. They gave no sign of seeing me.
At mile 9, the half-way point, I left the flatland and started up the road leading into one of my favorite stretches with its two miles of rolling hills, pastures and woods. At the top of the first hill there was a large dark shape in the road. I put on my glasses and the one shape turned into several silhouettes, a few tall and several small: parents watching over their children ready to slide down the hill. They quieted as they watched me approach but laughed when I spoke of the nice day for being outside.
My legs were tightening up and I was thirsty so I walked while taking a drink. I walked after finishing the drink. The angus on the west side of the road and I studied each other. Behind them, the thin bright border between the dark trees on the hill and the gray sky, indicated that the sun would set in a half hour or so. It’s quite okay to walk. I probably should do so more.
The beauty. The beauty.
And the cold. The wind picks up. It is now a headwind, penetrating my wet jacket and sweaty shirts. My walk turns into a shuffle then back into a jog.
One nice thing about this weather: the aggressive dogs at the house-&-junkyyard past the two-mile stretch are holed up somewhere and don’t even bark.
The first moving car I’ve seen in the 8 miles since Willie Frank’s passes slowly.
I’m cold and tired. I stop at Bill and Julie’s knowing they will be happy to offer a refuge of warmth but they are not home. Bill will later tell me “Another time like that, if we aren’t home, you go into the garage and turn on the electric heater!”
As the cold increases, the day darkens, and the legs thicken, I think “The best part of distance running is being able to come back home.”
A pick-up stops and the driver asks if I’m okay. I assure him that I am, just out for a run, less than two miles from home. He seems a bit skeptical: “Okay. I just wanted to make sure.” I thank him. Not until I get back to the house, see the chunk of ice that falls from my beard and realize that several icicles still remain do I start to think of what kind of picture that driver saw.
Evening after the snow storm
Trails we follow,