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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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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To Say It Makes It So

Posted on May 16, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

writer-at-desk

I’m in the process of writing a book about—wait for it—running. I know. Who’d have thought?

The book is part memoir—how running has transformed me personally and professionally—and part community collaboration. It will include the stories of remarkable women I’ve been fortunate to know here in San Antonio and how running has transformed them too.

It’s because of these women that I found the courage to write this book. And I was lucky enough to meet them because of the work I do as council director for Girls on the Run of Bexar County. Through it all, I am learning what it means to be part of a community. And I am learning so much more.

Writing is a tricky process. It comes in fits and starts, and sometimes goes even quicker. There are days when I can’t wait to get in front of my computer to dump out the piece of story that’s written itself in my head, and days when I can’t, for the life of me, string together one true sentence.

But it’s coming together nevertheless, slowly but surely. I’m half way there. Over the hump. Which is why I feel safe enough to say it out loud. And you know how words work. To say it makes it so.

 

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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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En Pointe

Posted on April 4, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

photo 2

I’ve never been a “girlie” girl. Until quite recently, I refused to wear pink. I’ve never been big on dresses or diamonds or bling. Other than a couple of unfortunate teen years (why didn’t anyone tell me my hair was so big?), I have tended to shy away from curling irons and bows.

So when my friend, a running coach, made tutus for us to wear last weekend to her training run—big, froufy, glittery, pink and green and white tutus—you’d think I would have refused. Not that she gave me a choice: “I’m sorry—it’s not really a question. It’s just what we’re doing.”

But I did not refuse. We wore our tutus, and for good reason.

Our point was to support Monika Allen, a runner, business owner, and board member of a Girls on the Run council in San Diego who was treated meanly by SELF magazine for running the 2013 LA marathon in a tutu.

Monika had lots of good reasons to wear a tutu, but only one really matters. She wanted to.

Monika had lots of good reasons to run a marathon. One in particular stands out. She was diagnosed in 2012 with inoperable brain cancer and this was her first marathon after undergoing chemo. She was out there to prove to herself that she could do it. She was out there with the support of her friends. She was out there simply being herself. Her bold, beautiful, joyful self.

I was proud to wear this tutu, proud to support someone like Monika and what she stands for. Proud to be part of a program like Girls on the Run that empowers girls to be true to themselves, to not do the kind of thing SELF magazine did.

And I discovered something about tulle and glitter: I like it. No, I love it. How can a person not smile when wearing a tutu? I have never had so much fun running a practice 10k, ever. And I have never seen so many early-morning-grumpy-looking drivers smile so readily as they drove by. How could they not? Tutus spread joy—and a fair amount of glitter—to—or on—all those around them.

My tutu hangs on my office door, where I can see it every day. It reminds me to be strong in the face of adversity. It reminds me to be myself, no matter who’s looking, or who’s not. My tutu will not hang there indefinitely. I fully intend to wear it again, and soon.

 

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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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Flat Tires

Posted on March 14, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

flat-tire

I’ve seen this commercial several times. We see the face of a young woman as she changes her tire in the rain.  She appears anguished, there in the rain alone. We are distressed too.  Is she safe? Will anyone stop to help her?  The camera pans out to a man standing next to the car.

Appearances can be deceiving.

“I told you you could do it,” the man says.  The girl, obviously his daughter, smiles confidently in her newfound ability as the rain stops and they get into the car together.

I generally hate commercials, and I particularly hate car commercials.  But I love this commercial. I love that this father empowers his daughter, showing her that she need not rely on others to do things for her unless she wants to.  She can do what she puts her mind to.

I was lucky enough to have a dad like this too.  He believed in doing things himself whenever he could.  This is the man who built most of his home’s second story by himself on weekends, vacations.  The man who always mowed his own lawn, planted his own flowers, painted the house, the deck, the awnings, the lawn furniture.

Sometimes do-it-yourself worked out fine.  The second story carpeting looked fantastic, for instance.  Other times, calling in a professional might have been a better idea. But who needs a level driveway anyway? He was a firm believer in trying.

So when my first car needed an oil change, he took me to the gas station and showed me how to find the right oil and filter, then dragged me under the car to finish the job.  When my headlight went out, I fixed it, with my dad standing behind me. It didn’t feel so empowering, then.  It felt greasy. Dead-buggy. And I felt awkward doing something I wasn’t used to.

A few years ago, I had my first flat tire. I had never changed a flat with my dad, but I had seen one changed.  This tire wasn’t just flat, but blown right the heck out.  My fault. I was new to Texas, not used to the razor-sharp markers sometimes used to separate traffic lanes, and I ran right over a whole stretch of them.  The mechanic who later attempted to fix the tire asked if someone had slashed it with a machete.

I pulled over and sat in my car for a few minutes, hoping someone would stop.  I knew what to do, in theory, but I felt awkward doing it. What if I screwed it up somehow or made it worse?  What if I accidentally fell over into oncoming traffic when I tried to remove the tire?

But no one stopped. I got out of the car, more irritated that I was going to be late than that I had to change my tire. I hate being late. I unloaded the spare and parts from my trunk and watched the road with one eye.

A handful of cars drove by. No one stopped.

I jacked up the car, swearing as I dirtied my shirt looking under the car for the groove to place the jack in, and started to loosen lug nuts. Not an easy task, let me tell you. I stomped on the tire iron and could barely budge them, at first.

More cars drove by. Still, no one stopped.

Finally, I got the tire off.  A semi pulled over a couple hundred feet up the road.

“Hold on,” the driver yelled as he walked my way. “Let me finish that.”

I waited for him to get there, then thanked him for stopping to help.

“I wasn’t going to,” he said. “I mean, you look like you know what you’re doing.  But then I thought of my sister. If she had a flat, I’d want someone to stop and help her.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of this. How odd that I look like I know what I’m doing, I thought. Sure, I know the process, but I am not at all comfortable actually completing it.

“Do you think that’s why no one else stopped?” I asked him. “Because I look like I know what I’m doing?”

“I guess so,” he shrugged and turned his attention to the tire.

I crouched into a deep squat and hugged my knees as I watched him finish changing the tire, grateful that I did know what to do. And grateful that he did too.

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