I’ve been running trails a lot lately and really enjoying it. My mind and body both rejoice at being outside in the wild and it seems pretty clear that there’s this body knowledge that arises in that environment, as if my body is kind of cognitively disabled all the time when I’m indoors and then like Charlie in Flowers For Algernon it gets real smart again when it gets outside. It wakes up its brain somehow. There’s this especially wonderful feeling when I’m running through varied terrain, going from wide open grassland into the trees, or coming out of the trees onto a rocky hilltop, that is deeply thrilling to my body and makes me want to just keep on running all day. If I can hit a long section of trail that is in and out of trees, with lots of climbing and descent, and where the trail disappears ahead a lot and then reveals itself again when you top a rise or turn a corner, I’m in total heaven. My lungs can be heaving, my legs totally smoked, my feet pounded to a pulp, but goddamn I feel great.
The other day I was on this trail out in the boonies and I left the trail just to climb this big, rocky hill and see what was what. I knew the ocean would be visible from the top of the hill, and it was early and no one was around so I shot off and scrambled up. When I got to the top it opened onto a string of rolling crests that lead to the sea. A hundred yards ahead of me and upwind was a scattered handful of deer, two young bucks, some does with their fawns. I kept trotting along towards them and they’d run off a bit and then stop, turn back towards me, their ears sweeping the horizon like radar domes and then freezing. Then one would turn and start high-stepping out of there and in a minute the rest would follow. I went after them for about a mile and got closer and closer until I was only a handful of yards from them, about fifteen deer altogether. It was early in the morning, cold, the salt air from the sea blowing across the hillsides and making the dried grass flatten and twist and I felt pretty much like every human animal since the dawn of time has felt in that situation. I could feel the spear in my hand, or the bow, the heavy rock even. I knew I could keep on after them all day until they couldn’t go on and in a little bit I’d have dinner for my family.
It’s the same thing on the trail. It’s ancient. Totally pure human animal activity, running through the trees. And everything in me just wakes up. Comes vibrantly alive. Every rock in the trail shimmers and vibrates with specificity. Sometimes I’m filled with energy and I feel like I’m on the hunt, tracking something down that’s just ahead of me. Sometimes I’m pumping adrenaline and feeling like I’m the prey, something big and powerful on my tail, running me down for dinner. Maybe both at the same time. And the longer I’m out there, the weirder it gets, the more ancient and wild everything seems, me especially. I notice that I start seeing snakes everywhere after about an hour of running, especially if I’m motoring, every stick leaps out of the ground at me like a coiled package of danger, my body shouts “SNAKE!” and jumps over it and by the time my mind says, “nope, just a stick” I’m long past it.
Probably I’m just nuts, but I run primarily for this experience of getting back to my cave man roots. And it’s why I want to run longer and longer, in ever wilder places. I don’t really want to race, I’m slow and old and although trail runners are great, friendly people, I want to be out there alone. I am lucky I’ve got access to a great bunch of trails out here and lots of time I can run off into the dark and tangly woods and not see another human the whole time I’m gone. It feels like I’m running backwards through time, that’s how I imagine it anyway. If I could run long enough and far enough when I popped out onto the grasslands I might bump into Homo Neanderthalensis coming back from his hunt.
We could grunt at each other, beat our chests, wave our bloody clubs in the air, then go off our separate ways.
For me, it’s as close as I get to being aligned with the millions of years of evolutionary history that is carried in my DNA.
It’s good, too, to have this other thing, this thing that isn’t cerebral, that isn’t at all about what makes sense or doesn’t, but is all about what’s in my body and what it wants to be doing to feel alive.
Anyway, that’s what I been up to when I’m not working or sitting.