Friday, May 15, 2009

i heart mud

Now that my semester has officially ended, the Friday morning trail runs have resumed. We meet at my house, at 6am sharp (yup, that's right--6am), and jog the mile or so to the DeDominicis trail, which the town opened up to the public about six years ago. Our run begins with a brutal wake-up: a steep climb up Old Lane Road to the trailhead. (It's less brutal for me, as I have my own personal rope tow in the form of my hyperactive Lab, Sasha.) A few minutes later, we are deep in the woods, ankle-deep in mud, and, if we've all had enough sleep (which was not the case this morning), deep in conversation. Despite the hour, it really is an invigorating start to the day.

I've always preferred trails to roads. People have often asked me, "Why do you run? Why would you do something so painfully boring?" I don't know. I've been running since I was ten or eleven; it's always been something I felt driven to do. But I see their point. When running begins to feel like work, it loses its purpose. On the trails, especially in the company of my witty and garrulous cohorts, I'm distracted from my task. Instead of muddling, I'm soaring. My brain is working furiously, calculating the best way around this rock or that root. My thighs are burning as I climb the hills, which always seem taller in the woods. Sasha stops to take a swim in a pool of fresh rainwater and we catch our breath, marveling at the dramatic change in the landscape now that spring is here. The ferns have sprouted up everywhere; the leaves are a deep, fertile green; the dead foliage has been reborn as rich brown soil. The woods are alive. Pete, our resident Audubon member, identifies birds by their songs. When we pause to tie a shoe or find the trail, the bugs remind us of their presence.

When we get back to my driveway, we're covered from thighs to soles in mud. Spring, our legs announce, has truly arrived. We don't hose off right away; we must first compare calves. Who has played the hardest? The mud is our elixir, our holy water, our badge of honor.

"Yuck!" my kids say when I enter the house, but I know they get it. There's a small hole in our sideyard that fills up with water when it rains, and they take great pleasure in dirtying themselves there. When they're done, their toes are grimy and black. They hold their hands up proudly, half-wondering if the muck will win them a smile or a reproach. I'll admit I'm not always thrilled (who wants to clean up that mess?), but inside, I am pleased. In a small way, they're in touch with nature, and in that moment, it's way better than toys!

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