For many people it is the light of autumn that seems romantic. As the sun courses lower in a September sky, shadows grow longer and trees take on a tinge of color. Come October, the light grows clear without the humidity of summer.
Those are wonderful things. My son has always loved autumn for these reasons. I look forward to them as well. And autumn is not far away.
Looking back at summer, the month of July is always an awesome feast of summer fun with its blooming lilies and my birthday, to boot. Before that, June is full of anticipation as summer arrives.
Yet August is like some rich combination of dinner and desert. Usually my fitness is good by then. I can cycle 40-50 miles and not get tired. Same goes for running. And I even swam 1500 meters in a lake this past weekend without gasping. And so, with the exception of the occasional grass allergy that comes along the first week of August, I’ve always enjoyed the rich glory of warm weather and August light.
Some of that appreciation goes all the way back to those first weeks of cross country practice when I was just fourteen years old. I’ll never forget the strain in my lungs and the aching in my chest as we ran those first miles, every kid for himself. Something clicked in me though. I loved it. It all took place under August light.
Arriving at cross country practice every August after that meant days filled with goals and expectations. The older I got, the more was expected of me. August meant leadership.
When I went off to college, those first miles running around the campus at Luther were a thrilling yet challenging test of personal confidence and resolve. I clearly recall climbing a long, winding hill at Palisades Park, a set of bluffs that rise high above the Upper Iowa River in Decorah, Iowa. I was running at my limits but not willing to give an inch. We curled around the top of the park and then descended like madmen, almost flying off the road at some points.
Then we raced back to campus and gathered around our coach. Each young man was eyeing the other. “Look!” one of the Juniors pointed at me and said. “This dude’s not even sweating!” That was 44 years ago.
August love moon
Entering my fourth year in college I fell in love with a girl under an August moon at an RA retreat in the hills of Wisconsin.
But I also recall the drive up to Luther with my father that year. Finally we’d reached a level of peace and respect in our lives. He’d given me good advice and encouragement in choosing Luther in the first place. “You can bird in those hills,” he’d told me. That set the course of my life in a good direction.
He was right about the birds many other things. In fact, he was the man who nudged me into running in the first place. As much as my father and I fought about many things in life, he genuinely wanted us to find our place in the world, and succeed. But he was practical too, almost to a fault. The previous spring when I’d broken off a relationship that lasted the second half of my junior year in college, I confessed to him that I’d never really been in love with her in the first place. “Well, she kept you warm for a while,” he offered. I glanced over at him in the car that day. He gave a rare nod of the head. All things have their seasons, he seemed to be saying.
See the light
Which is why this August light gets to me as the prairie dock and compass plant flowers tower over the prairie when I run past. That light has carried me through so many years. Well after college was over, I’d push my body into hard training mode in August so that come September and October, when the weather cooled and race days would come along on Sunday morning, I’d be ready to throw it down with the best of them. I’m proud to say that I won more than a few. The die for that success was cast in August, I must say. If you want to see the light, you’ve got to rise to the occasion. Early and often. Even in the heat of August.
Tall and august
Of course things have mellowed for me with time. I still race, but the urgency with which I approach those opportunities has changed. Like the rich shadows that cloak a dew-soaked lawn on the first of August, I stand tall and august in one place at times, just thinking about what I want from each day.
I’m grateful for all the August mornings I’ve experienced. Grateful for sharing them with sharp-cheeked teammates racing along with sweat falling from their hair. Grateful for those first two women runners who showed up at cross country practice that August in 1975. They were women who set the stage for so many women to follow, and every woman that I see running makes me think back to the efforts of those two gals.
Grateful as well for a coach who understood and encouraged those women, and demanded much of us all, along the way. Grateful for the memories that flow from all those experiences.
I’m also grateful to be running well enough to enjoy a four mile run today through a cool morning on the last day of July, 2018. It will grow hot again later this week. Thus the die is cast again. There is no getting through August, or its determined light, without a barrel of sweat that falls from tanned skin.
And I love it. I do love it so.