I grew up running. Cross-country. Not in any races, or over any sort of path. I ran the hills of Northern California. No paths, no markers. Just two big dogs (German Shepherd ‘King’ and Rottweiler ‘Bear’) and me, and a whole lot of room to let my mind get out of itself.

It’s like someone bunched Northern California’s foothills together, or pleated them. Up and down, up and down. Stand on a hill, look down a nearly cliff-like angle. Slither through dead leaves, around poison oak, under branches. Get slapped in the face by toyon bushes and scratchy live oak, or cut by the tangles of manzanita. Tripped by fallen branches, gopher holes and rocks hidden under leaves.

I grew up doing that. When I couldn’t take the tension between my grandmother and me anymore, or when the symptoms of whatever mental thing has shaped my life all these years got too rough, I headed outside. I filled my pockets with cookies or apples from the orchard, or treats for the dogs. Walked down the driveway, jogged through the corral, hopped across the streambed, and let myself through the gate into the back pasture. A quick run across the valley, and a slow trudge up the steep hill where mullein, elderberry and black oaks provided an unappreciated cornucopia of medicinals. Climb through the old barb-wire fence.

There’s a line there, that fence. On one side, it’s completely clear. No trees. We didn’t do any clearing, that’s just the fringe of the valley. Reaching over that fence though, it’s like Fangorn. Multi-trunked live oaks lean over the fence, and in the shadow of those trees, it’s another land. The coyotes come out of there. The mountain lions, too, when they’ve ventured all the way out of the ranches.

Our land is the edge of the half-wild land that reaches all the way into the vast Desolation Wilderness. Cattle ranches and drug-producers, recluses, witches, and…nothing. Not many people live out here. If you do, there’s reasons. Relationships aren’t good between the neighbors, not here. We’re all touchy, dark, proud people, our own sort of culture. We’re the kind that carry guns in our trucks and pray at night. Not because of political beliefs, but because we’ve found ranch managers stuffed into wells and most of us have seen our share of the otherworld.

So I’d hit that fringe, and slip into a different soul, a different mind. I walked outwards. I don’t know how far it was from the pasture to where the trees bumped up against the road. I just know that, from the sunshine, the trees seem to forbid entry, and that from the trees, the sunshine seems a foreign, unreal thing. Can’t explain that one for you folks, sorry. Remember, my land is an ancient cemetery, where the ghosts aren’t always passed on. I’m used to this stuff. You’ve got to walk under those trees sometime, if you want to believe that this is more than a fanciful description.

Anyways, I’d walk out, until my mind untangled itself. Usually, I’d find myself at one of the bigger trees, one with low-hanging branches. That’s where the food got handed around. The dogs were almost always a good half-mile off by the time I stopped, but knew that, if I stopped, the chances of food were pretty good.

I could be out there for hours, sometimes. Most of the time, less than two hours. It just seemed like longer.

Then I’d turn towards home, and start running. It usually started at the top of the first hill. I’d toss my overly-busy mind to the wind and dive into the bush. Maybe the deer loaned me their eyes, like the Miwok believed. I never had to backtrack. I never got lost. I just ran, up and down, and kept going. If my footing gave way, I went with it. I learned to dodge things. My hair never got caught. Magical, let me tell you!

I felt on top of the world, when I emerged from that forest, into the sunshine again. The sunlight always hurt my eyes, too!

I couldn’t run for crap, on a track. I think I could have run from one end of the county, to the other, if I stayed in the forest.

Running became a metaphore, and an outlet. Pain and exhaustion are the only ways I know of that really soothe my chaotic mind. Playing the music too loudly, beating the crap out of something, running, it makes life manageable.

It’s probably ironic that, by the age of 13, I couldn’t run anymore. I had an accident then, fell off a horse and tore my body up. I stopped being invincible. Not a day passed, after that accident, that I didn’t feel pain. I’d hurt myself plenty of times before, but this was different, and it took a lot of the wind out of my sails. Two more accidents, I sprained both ankles, and it wasn’t just mentally that I didn’t find the pleasure in running anymore. It hurt. Just walking, my ankles would fold on me. I couldn’t sleep well, couldn’t play the piano, started coming loose.

I didn’t run for a very long time.

In my dreams, I run. In my daydreams, I run. Not on two legs, but on four. I lived, breathed, dreamed horses for years. Not the usual little-girl-pony dreams, but the power of horses, their innate freedom and strength. Four legs would be more natural to me, I’m sure of it.

I finally got back on the treadmill, last year. So hard! My ankles buckled, tore, folded. So I started running. Still painful. But I was running.

Running made the physical pain worth it.

I’m still running. But I’m not running away from my demons, these days. I’m running with them, running them into submission.

Maybe one of these days, I’ll run through the forest again.


2 Responses to “Running”

  1. If you run into me while your there,
    you ought to stop by and say,
    I won’t hang you. Promise.
    Now, start running.
    Some pain is worth the hurt. Yippee!

  2. When you feel it’s time to run through the forest, I’ll run with you, east and west.

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