It’s been a bit chaotic the last couple days. My girlfriend’s beautiful little cat Bennie got out of the house and hasn’t come back in. Last night I had him in my hands for a second but he’s a feisty quick little bugger and got away again.
That kind of capped a week in which a lot of things kept slipping away. We had a replacement bike frame for Sue, and then it turned out there was a warranty issue and the bike had to be replaced, not repaired. Things got complicated and it was back and forth on that issue too. It’s close to being resolved but life is not simple. Not in so many ways.
Which meant that last night’s run was a gorgeous break from the complications of everyday existence. Sue was getting a needed massage after her 15 mile run in the heat on Sunday. That meant there was an hour and fifteen minutes or so to use as I liked.
The massage appointment was right next to the headquarters of the DuPage County Forest Preserve District offices. The offices sit right at the juncture of the Danada Farms complex and Herrick Lake Forest Preserve. A trail snakes it’s way from one to the other. That trail called with all its might to me.
It was twilight as the run began. A few other runners and cyclists were out finishing up their workouts as I began. The trail is well known to me since we train there every other week in the summertime.
During May there were warblers of a dozen species singing in the trees. Overbirds call from the forest floor, mocking the human world with a song that says Teacher!Teacher!Teatcher!
Come June the towhees and thrashers launched into song. In July the bobolinks circled above the fields calling in their miraculously unleashed voices.
By August the birds settle down and the insects take over. From the oaks one could hear thousands of cicadas rising as one in their summer song. I’ve lived through 58 summers on earth and the sound of cicadas never gets old. The cicadas often sing at the Ravinia Music Festival venue when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays. It’s a fascinating mix of human genius and natural sound.
One absorbs sound as much as one hears it. That is the case while running along a trail late in a summer day with the sun sinking in the sky. The thrum and hum of cicadas soaks through your skin and becomes one with the blood flowing through your veins. Your heart may be beating faster and you may sense it, but do not hear it. Instead the sound of your shoes on a crushed gravel trail keeps time.
You look at the white surface of the trail disappearing into a hedge or grassy turn ahead. An eternal sequence of rabbits runs along and darts into sections of the restored prairie
standing like a low wall beside the trail. In that prairie are literally billions of creatures we never see or know. But if you were to peel off the trail during your run and dive into the thick and unforgiving grasses, the insects would surprise you in their number.
Many of them have voices too. Tiny, twitching voices complimented during the day by the insect-like song of the grasshopper or Henslow’s sparrows whose songs are nothing more than low buzzes and short tsi-liks! that somehow carry through the wind. These quiet routines have evolved through hundreds of millions of years.
And still, a parade of ponderous and sometimes pondering human beings pass through this natural encyclopedia barely recognizing that we’re formed of the same genetic stuff that drives the bugs and birds and bees.
The bright color of my shoes starts to glow in the ultraviolet twilight. My slightly tanned legs are a sin against medicine and age, but it makes me feel good to have absorbed some sunlight this summer. Yes, it’s a risk they tell us. But summer is a rite of passage from this life to another no matter what you do. You either choose to live in it or without it.
And I’m flying along for once, as if I were young again. The mile times drop from 8:15 to 8:00 to 7:50. Not super speedy but quick enough for a summer night. The curves in the trail are fun to run. I decide to say nothing to the young mom picking up her child’s detritus from the trail. Her husband lugs along ahead pushing a stroller. Their child is flat on his back and a bit outsized for the stroller. He is kicking his legs like a beetle flipped over on its back. As I pass it is apparent the child is on the autism spectrum. He senses the world in entirely different ways. This kicking of legs is his response to passing under the trees. Perhaps he thinks he is flying. I think the same thing. We’re so much alike.
At the far end of my run the lake waits while I circle the loop after a bathroom stop. Sweat drips off the brim of my hat. Honest sweat. It is humid outside. I stand and pee while chuckling at the fact that there is a small touch of poison ivy rash on my penis. How that Happened I do not know. It may have come from shoelaces laced with oils from that horrid plant. There are a couple spots on my body where the rash popped up. But on my penis? It has itched for three days. Finally I treated it with TechNu, which works every time.
Such is the reach of summer. Sometimes it infuses our souls and other times it only bites and scratches and oils us as if we were a human palette. A patina of mosquito bites on the neck or legs is a reminder of the previous night’s perch on the back porch sipping wine.
On the return trip I decide to drop the pace another notch and see how the internal motor responds. Easy. Not out of breath at all at 7:30 pace. I know that my body can now produce 6:00 pace on demand. The track sessions have told me that. Knowing there is something in the tank is the height of youth at any age. Admittedly a few gears from the top end of my former range have been lost but the sensation of running fast has not changed. For all I know I am 21 years old again. In fact I’m 58. Is there any real difference when you’re running well and loving it?
Finally toward the end of the run a bit of fatigue sets in. I make a wrong turn as well, and have to backtrack. That’s okay, an excuse to slow for a few seconds and study the dark bushes with the sun fully down. The cicadas are in full throat now. A few katydids start to join the chorus like a rhythm section. They will take over for the cicadas once they retire for the night. Then it’s katydids speaking their own name through the blackness of night.
I turn through the parking lot and pick up the pace again. Only a quarter mile to go on a gravelly path back to the parking lot where I expect to find Sue done with her massage. And indeed, she’s just gotten to the car when I arrive. Sweat soaks through my shirt and I ask permission to job around a little and cool down. She understands.
We drive home with thunderclouds forming on the western horizon. We hope for rain in some ways. Summer delivers overnight and the morning grass shines humbly as sun peeks through the trees. Another day. A summer day. The sweet music of another summer run or ride awaits. You either take in the sweet music of a summer run or you don’t. As for me, I will listen with a full heart whenever I can. And be thankful for that.