Keeping the Peace

Posted on July 18, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The kayak reached it first. Debris, we thought, left behind by careless hikers. In the Grand Canyon, as in many parks, you pack out what you pack in. Not everyone packs carefully. We picked garbage sporadically from the swiftly flowing Colorado River as we made our way along, a chain of puffy yellow rafts.

Only this speck of bobbing flotsam was not garbage but a young hawk. Feathers soaked, cold and shivering, it struggled to keep from slipping beneath the river’s skin. The kayaker leaned in, lifted it from the water, held it high toward the reach of a river guide who firmly, gently cupped it in her hands.

red-tailed-hawk-dive-marcus-armaniThe vastness of the canyon walls, the river cutting through it, alters one’s perception. The sixteenth century explorer Cárdenas estimated the width of the river, peering down from the canyon rim, as only six feet.

It averages three hundred here, a distance hard to comprehend even as you’re on it, dwarfed by the layers of time in the formation of rock jutting up around you. What appeared a tiny speck easily grasped between two fingers spilled over the river guide’s hands as she held them aloft in an attitude of prayer. The hawk’s feet dangled halfway to her elbows.

Someone took over her oars and paddled the raft to an outcropping of rock, where the guide hopped nimbly from raft to rock in her bare feet, skirt billowing around her legs, and laid the hawk in the sun to dry.

Later, at camp, she assured us that the hawk didn’t appear injured, only stunned, and it seemed almost grateful to feel the life-restoring heat of the sun bearing down, rising up from the rock beneath. We were relieved to imagine its full recovery.

We speculated how such a thing could have happened. A keen-eyed bird of prey, most at home soaring the skies, only to skim the river too closely, tumble in. Was it so eager for its meal that it misjudged the gap between its talons and the river’s surface? Was it too hungry—or too inexperienced—to wait for the safe bet—or maybe too self-assured, this young hawk, overestimating its ability to dip quickly, veer off before getting caught in the rush of the waves?

Or, perhaps, the surface was smooth as the hawk approached, glass mirroring the sky, the layers of time extending up into an open blue vault. Perhaps the hawk was startled by its own reflection, lost its balance, plummeted in. Lost its breath and its bearing in the cold shock of water.

I had forgotten about the hawk until this week. Ten days home and already my peace disturbed. I returned from my trip determined to preserve my balance. To not allow the crush of commitment and time, the pressure of the unfinished, the weight of the promised plague my soul.

To not skim too close to the swiftly moving tides and fall in. field-of-trees-at-dawn-126-2560x1600

And then I simply forgot, or maybe disregarded, the promise I made to myself: You must remember this. The rolling of the raft on the river. The dry heat of the sun on the skin. The final cleansing of waves in the rapids as we prepared to beach below the trailhead.

The river alters one’s perception. It wasn’t until this morning’s run as the sun split the sky like a melon, spilling its pink-and-yellow-rind color into the dark, on my skin that I remembered, and I re-visioned things. My place in this world. So small.

I ran toward the crack of dawn and let it envelop me with gentle hands.

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Shantih

Posted on July 11, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Shantih:  The peace which surpasses understanding.

You must remember this, I told myself on day five, the final day of our rafting trip on the Colorado River through the upper half of the Grand Canyon. We paddled the last three or so miles from our campsite to the drop-off point at Garden Creek, just west of the Bright Angel Bridge, where we’d hike the eight miles up, out of the canyon and onto the south rim.

Bright Angel (Silver) Bridge

Bright Angel (Silver) Bridge

The last couple of rapids were tame but we paddled as we were taught to, leaning in from the hips, pulling back not with the arms but with the  core. A light breeze rippled the water, our hats. Birds spun and skimmed the surface in search of breakfast. Deer played on the opposite shore as we prepared to beach.

It was beautiful. Serene. But that’s not all I wanted to remember. It was the way I felt that seemed more important to recall, to mark in my brain and body this profound sense of peace.

That was day five. But that’s not how the trip started.

River guides are smart. They dole out information a little at a time. Just what you need when you need it. Otherwise, you’re overwhelmed. The pre-trip meeting, for instance: Here’s how you pack your dry bag. The pre-launch meeting: Safety first–what happens to you effects everyone. Do this with your paddle; never do that.

Just a trickle of information. Always the right amount at the right time.

So when we set out on day one, which felt like the hottest day in the history of days, and I followed all of their instructions–drink at least one gallon of water by lunch (I drank two), another gallon by dinner (I drank two more); wear cotton and a hat and sunglasses; lather up with sunblock–I was disturbed by the fact that I was so miserable. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors, after all. I’ve been camping and hiking, canoeing and kayaking, snorkeling and diving and sailing, running and biking and swimming. I’m no stranger to sweat and dirt and discomfort, yet here I was, hot and irked.

And it was only mid-day.

That’s when we got the bathroom talk, part one. The instruction: Everyone pees in the river. Not on the shore. Not in the bushes or on the trees or behind the rocks. In the river. Pants down–not through your bathing suit.

When you drink two gallons of water before lunch, pit stops happen early and often.  You paddle to the shore, hop off the raft, men upstream, women down, and everyone turns their head away, men from women, women from men.

But this was day one. With twenty-two guests and seven guides on six rafts. We barely knew each other. We were all civilized, proper, coming straight from a world of comfort and technology and suits, where most of us are uptight about such things. And you want us to do what?

Five women and two men slid off my raft onto a stretch of shore barely wide enough for the boat. Men walked a couple of steps upstream while the women waded waist-deep into the water, attempting to spread out far enough that we didn’t have to see each other, yet not far enough into the river to get swept away. No one made eye contact. Everyone hurried, embarrassed, not talking, until we saw the other rafts coming our way and scurried to get back into the boat.

We sat quietly for a while afterward, taking in the sights. A condor, some bighorn sheep, swallows that flash iridescence on their wings, and more. We’d have been sweating profusely if the humidity wasn’t in the single digits. (Now I understand what people mean when they say, but it’s a dry heat.) Dipped our feet in the 50º water to keep cool.

Vishnu Schist

Vishnu Schist

 

Slowly, steadily, over the next few days as the canyon walls rose more steeply and majestically and the silence of nature settled in, we let our tensions go. Rather than talking about what we do in the world, we attempted to answer the important questions:  If Vishnu Schist (the deepest, blackest, oldest layer of rock in the Grand Canyon–on the planet, actually–the layer of earth that surrounds molten lava at the planet’s core, the layer we glided through, half expecting dinosaurs to peer over the fallen rocks) was the name of a beer, what kind of beer would it be? A dark stout to match the color of the schist? Or a pale amber, to match the cool, refreshing feel of the river on your skin as you’re passing through?

As the layers of the earth towered above us, our guards went down. On pit stops we waded into the river only ankle deep and chatted as we squatted side by side. We didn’t search for such absolute cover when we selected our place to sleep at camp. We simply gauged the closest spot to the river (four to five gallons of water a day wakes you up frequently at night) under the widest expanse of sky so we could unfurl our bed in the sand under the stars. Before long, even the sand felt like velvet between the toes.

When we unloaded the raft on the bank of the river at the base of the Bright Angel Trail that final day, I noticed an outhouse just up the trail. I looked wistfully down at the river rushing cold and fast past our rafts and then sighed as I looked up at the perfectly fitted brown painted planks enclosing the composting toilets. A hiking party from the rim had almost reached it.

“Do I have to go in there?” I asked our river guide as I looked up toward the trail.

She shrugged as she tied off the boat. “Whatever makes you happy,” she smiled.

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Just the Facts, Ma’am

Posted on June 13, 2014. Filed under: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Tropical-Fish1

You need to post more information about yourself, my editor tells me. People need to know you.

Why? I ask. Whoever reads my blog knows me by what I write. The stories. The struggles. The voice and tone. What more is there to know?

It’s been a battle of the wills for months, but she will inevitably win. Writing a memoir is hard, the distillation of a lifetime through a funnel called Running, Community.

It starts in a blog, a series of posts, and expands ever outward, from blog to memoir to a compilation of runners’ stories woven together like a tightly knit shawl. To be complete by the end of summer. Draft 1.

The hardest question to answer: Tell us about yourself. Writing a bio of even three sentences is excruciatingly hard.

What is it people want to know, the facts (or the truth behind them)?

My favorite colors are blue and green (the colors of peace and tranquility—like floating under water, suspended by saline and waves; the only sound your breath, to know you are alive; surrounded by fish the color of the sun or the sky at dawn, a funnel cloud of rainbow eddying around you).

But this is no longer eighth grade and the relevant facts do not involve (so I am told) colors or music or movies.

Do they want to know the history (or the narrative)? Dates or events comprise the skeleton, stories connect the organs and flesh.

It takes a lifetime to build a body.

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Hello Summer

Posted on June 6, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

It’s here, semi-officially, this week.

I know, it doesn’t officially start until summer solstice, Saturday, June 21, at 6:51 am. In case you’re counting.

But this week marks the end of the school year, which means…

Less traffic.

school-buses-300x172

Less shoe-wearing.

summer-quotes-sayings-overdressed-feet

More lawn mowing (I love the smell of fresh cut grass. It reminds me of watermelon. And my dad.)

how-to-mow-your-lawn-1

 

More pool time.

swimming_cat

 

More down time.

sam-keen

 

And more sweat.

seat lodge

Well, maybe not that much more. I’m just glad it’s here.

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Accidentally Blonde

Posted on May 30, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

animal-adorable-expression-of-little-cat-on-mirror-hd-wallpapers-widescreen-wallpapers-kitten-mirror-cat-in-the-mirror-mary-stolz-cat-mirror-test-mirror-cat-manor-cat-mirror-justin-timberlake-cat-shap

I was a blonde once, by accident. For a year, maybe more.

It started with my sneaky hair stylist, who sported a spiky platinum ‘do herself. I wanted a change, nothing shocking. Just a spot of blonde, a wisp at my temple.

I was mid-divorce and needed something new. Something bold. Something me.

Or maybe something not me.

The wisp became a streak. The streak multiplied asymmetrically and soon became reminiscent of a zebra. Not so much later, the stripes became a layer and, shortly, the layer a helmet.

One morning as I brushed my teeth I caught my own eye in the mirror and gasped, stunned to find that I was blonde. I didn’t know, then, how it had happened, with me unawares.

Maybe I lost sight of who I was.

Or maybe I never knew.

I went out for a run to think on it, and it brought me to my senses.

The next day, I came back to me. Brunette. Mostly. Except for the wisps of gray sometimes peeking out at my temples.

Now in the mornings when I brush my teeth and catch sight of myself in the mirror, I know exactly who I am.

I smile through dribbled toothpaste, and then go out for a run.

 

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Happiness Is…

Posted on May 23, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Peace. Calm. happiness-jpg1

That’s the conclusion my friends and I came to this week. Peace and calm, we realized, is actually the precondition for happiness, at least for the three of us.

Each month, my friends and I meet to talk about the issues that pertain to running a business, leading as a woman. This month’s topic: happiness.

What makes you happy? The question that launched the discussion, based on an article we read in USA Today. Our answers weren’t what some may think—not money or material goods, not power or prestige, not hedonism. They are, in fact, the simple things.

Running.

Practicing yoga.

Sitting on the deck in the sun listening to the breeze stirring wind chimes.

Cleaning the garage.

Spending time with people we care about.

As we worked through the question of happiness, we realized that a sense of order, peace, calm was part of the equation. Creating order is a necessary component of happiness. The symmetry, cleanliness, beauty, peace come first. The result? Happiness.

Not the cleaning itself, but the having cleaned.

Not the writing itself, but the having written.

A goal met. A sense of achievement. And in the midst of it all, the flow of time suspended.

Which is what I get when I run.

 

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Dodging Hurdles, or the impetus to run

Posted on May 9, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

 

image from cutestlife.com

image from cutestlife.com

The first time I took up running it was because of a boy. A crush. I was starting junior high, seventh grade, and he was a year ahead of me. Naturally wavy blonde hair. Blue eyes. Athletic. I was tall and had long legs, and he suggested I try out for the track team. So I gave it a go.

The first day of try-outs, the coach looked at me, my height, the length of my legs and said, “You’re running hurdles.”

Hurdles? You mean my feet have to leave the ground and I need to open my body like a jackknife over that thing that looks like a traffic barricade?

The eighth grade boy nodded vigorously. I gave it a go.

How about the high jump?” the coach suggested as she picked gravel out of my bloody knees. My body was not built to open like a jackknife. It preferred a straight line. If I could simply run and weave around the hurdles, straight flat-out running, maybe it would be all right.

I kept a brave face, even though my knees stung and the skin hung from them in tiny flecks like shredded cheese.

But the eighth grade boy nodded vigorously. So I gave the high jump a go.

On the first try, I sailed over the horizontal bar. Never mind that it was less than two feet off the ground and I could have hopped it on one foot. The coach clapped her hands and raised the bar twice as high, level with my waist.

I stepped back to the start line, sweating, and eye-balled the bar. Surely I could do this. The eighth grade boy was watching, as was the coach, my friends.

I ran toward the bar, planted my foot at the base, and sprung into the air, landing on my butt in the sand trap on the other side. I heard a sound like a bell clanging, and my forehead stung briefly. I blinked sand out of my eyes, pleased that I had made it, for the split second I thought I’d made it, and tried to stand up.

But all eyes were on me, and all mouths were open.

“What?” I said, but before I could say more, my eyes were forced shut. Blood poured down the right side of my face, into my eyes and the corner of my mouth.

I yelped as my hand flew up, swiping at the blood. I looked toward the bar, but it was not held aloft on the pegs. My foot had hit it, dragging down the support poles, one of which knocked me in the head.

I sat on the curb in front of the school alone and waited for my mom. Several stitches and a concussion later, I decided that running was not for me. And maybe neither was this eighth grade boy.

It would be twenty years until I took up running again. The second time, I took it up because of me.

There would be no one to impress. No one to determine my ability based on my appearance.

No one to tell me how far I could go or how fast, or to place obstacles in my path.

There would be only the long-fingered mango leaves beckoning me down the road in the star-soaked, pre-dawn darkness of Guam.

This time, I more than gave it a go. This time, it stayed.

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Too Many Mind

Posted on May 2, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

clarity

In The Last Samurai, Captain Algren learns the Samurai way of life—and fighting—while held captive for a winter in a mountain village.  During one brutal lesson in sword fighting, practiced with long sticks, Algren loses each bout pretty quickly.

Finally, Nobutada pulls him aside. “Too many mind,” he counsels Algren. You’re distracted. Stop paying attention to the spectators, the wind, the noise around you.

“No mind,” he instructs. Focus on the stick in front of you.

Clarity. Mind over matter, mind over body. No matter how many other ways I try to achieve it, for me it happens best when I run. My mind is often cluttered with noise, distraction. What I need most is clarity of mind over mind. Fortunately, I get that when I run.

Which is a good thing. Because, I’ve learned, if I don’t focus on the stick right in front of me, I may very well get beat with it.

I’d rather run.

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Community Trust

Posted on April 25, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

ring around the rosie

“Trusting.”

Not a question but an imperative. The girl in the middle closes her eyes and tells her team she is ready.

“You can trust us.”

In unison. They are prepared. To bear her weight, right her when she tips too far out of balance.

It’s a risky game for all involved. A frightening prospect particularly for the one in the middle, who must rely on her peers.

And so begin the Girls on the Run lessons in community. I’ve witnessed this lesson half a dozen times over the past several seasons, showing up by chance to observe a team on the day it’s facilitated.

Only I don’t believe in chance.

This time, something about the game strikes me. Why is it that the very first in a series of games to reinforce the concept of community is about trust? There are so many components of community: What we have in common—values, attitudes, interests, demographics, language, geography—and what we don’t. None of that sort of glue requires trust.

Why do we expect these girls to throw their weight on their team, and why do we expect the team to support it? Is it too much to ask?

I sit on a rock in the shade and watch the girls stand vigil, shoulder to shoulder, over the girl in the center, their eyes somber with responsibility. They giggle and squirm but never remove their gaze from the girl who is trusting, and they never lose their footing.

They seem to know instinctively the importance of their role. If they step aside, a gaping hole remains and the girl in the center falls. There is no one to fill their space. Each of them is necessary.

I watch from the sidelines feeling both hollow and filled. Each time I observe a team I am astonished by the wisdom and strength of these young girls, blown away by their mutual encouragement, moved to tears by their interaction with their coaches.

Yet, each time, I walk away feeling alone. Not lonely, but solitary.

I head back to my car mulling over this day’s lesson and the relationship between trust and community. Most of my own involvement in community has been in the outer circle, standing shoulder to shoulder with others. I have yet to spend much time in the middle, as the girl who is trusting.

I chuckle at the realization and my emptiness dissipates. I have witnessed this lesson half a dozen times over the past several seasons. Today I finally get it.

I don’t believe in chance.

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Creating Order out of Chaos

Posted on March 21, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Lawn-stripey-1mg1

My new training plan is posted on the side of my refrigerator, a black and white grid containing daily directives and empty white space awaiting my penciled-in results. I love a new plan. It’s challenge and promise weigh equally. It gives me a sense of purpose each day. A reason to get out of bed earlier than the birds.  And the direction and clarity to know what to do even after the white space is filled in.

That’s the key, really. The “after” part of completing the daily plan.

Sure, running is the reason for the plan. And, for now, for my new 16-week plan, biking and swimming is too.  It is the reward, the goal, the tool, the end in itself and the means to a greater end all rolled into one. There is freedom in running. There is joy and health and confidence.

But there is more.

Running helps me to create order out of chaos. And chaos is, after all, life, mostly.

It is a million different forces all pressing on us at once, vying for our attention, demanding action.  It is a million bits of information clamoring to be heard, absorbed, incorporated into the design.

It is a million blades of grass forming a raggedly blanket of a lawn that the HOA insists must be flattened and smoothed.

I get tremendous satisfaction in mowing my lawn.  Watching straight lines form in the grass behind my mower, leaving a wake of structure.

So it is with me in running.  The sheer act of physical movement, of allowing my mind the freedom to construct my day, week, month, story, life at the dawn of each day produces the structure for all else.  Without it, I cannot write, at least not well.  Without it, the organization I lead would not be led strategically, compassionately, or wisely, a goal I mindfully set each day, but instead would become like the field behind my house, overgrown with weeds.

My desk has always faced a wall. Until recently, the wall has been blank. Now, a corkboard hangs in front of me, the center space empty, all else tacked to the sides.  Whenever I look up, I see the vision of what will be that my mind’s eye projects there, like a movie on a screen, the endless possibilities a swirl of chaos.  Writing and leading an organization have this in common:  You must always keep your vision in front of you to make the right choices, choose the right ideas, to create order out of the chaos.

My new training plan started this week.  The Royal Empress and Mountain Laurel have just begun to bloom. Their fragrance rolls out before me like a red carpet when I run. There is so much promise in the newness of spring, its plan unfolding.

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