“Jazz From the Graveyard,” the voice from KPLU informed me almost as if hearing me wonder what I was listening to at two in the morning. I was trying to decide between Herbie Hancock’s “Possibilities” or Eartha Kitt’s “Back in Business” when he said something about an uninterrupted hour of women singing the blues. I left the radio on. One less decision.
Weird running, sort of running, on the island last evening. After three days of thick fog, a breeze was clearing the air. I decided to run Cedar Grove, trying to get to the bluff for sunset and follow my brand new, hasn’t been taken outside yet, six-LED lantern back to the car.
I sometimes wonder what sort of fool drivers think they are seeing, if they see us at all, as I pull on the last layer–rain shell, gloves, cap, pat pockets for lights–and head off into the drizzle. Crunch, crunch, crunch down the gravel, winding away from the sound of cars hurrying home, I round the curve and their lights go away. The dusk of evening thickens as memory takes me down Humpty Dump to Alder Grove and up to Escape. Cold water splashes from brushed limbs. The gravel road is left behind and the leaves of a thousand trees hide all sound–breathing and heartbeats become the only noise–their rhythm joins my legs as I turn onto Cedar Grove.
In “Last Child in the Woods” we are told the current generation is not going out in the woods; is not leaving the protective supervision of playgrounds in subdivisions; is losing the imagination nature wants us to develop. These are my woods most of the time, the place my imagination plays. An old child wandering along, unsupervised.
I pass the Old Men, fog shrouded, cedar boughs bent and dripping brush my shoulder as I start the drop into the kettle and darkness. It is too cloudy for sunset and dropping down the side of the kettle the challenge that has been whispering comes forth loudly: You can get to the bluff without turning on the light if you hurry.
Hurry? Well, at least shuffle faster. Ohkeigh. Up the switchbacks wondering how many trails do I know how many switchbacks they each have? Dimple, Stick in the Eye, Butterfield, this one, and that one across the water–water? The clouds have lifted enough to see the Olympic Mountains over on the peninsula. One last ray of sunset fights for its glory as I come up out of the kettle above the Straits of Juan de Fuca.
I sat on a knotted root of a many years old Alaskan Cedar scanning the waters, looking at mountains silhouetted across the sound. As I glance down, a patch of white moves, then another–two adult bald eagles are enjoying sunset on the beach. Maybe the huge nest that was empty last year will have a family this year. I leave in the gathering darkness, right, left, past the fallen one, right, and around to the top. No lights yet.
The games we play. Can I make it to Grancy’s Run without turning on my brand new flashlight? The bluff is left behind. The sun’s last ray snuffed as I turn downward to the quarter-mile of pavement on the park road and left toward Grancy’s. An owl’s hoo-hoo-huaoo greets me as I lengthen the stride. The gate I made last August greets me. Gates and benches made by my hands–they hold so much more than do the programs written on the screens at other times. I slip by the gate and start down the alley of darkness. A mile and a tenth to the car. My eyes enjoy a seldom felt challenge. It’s only dark for another quarter-mile, then the whiteness of the old gravel road will be visible. I slip the light back into its scabbard.
Gravel crunches ‘neath my feet as I follow the ghostly whisper of white through the alleys of ocean spray, cedar, and alder. The lights of cars on the highway tell me another night run is over. My last few steps are drowned by the hiss and whine of tires on asphalt. I pause at the last turn to look back–some nights we leave something out there. I’ll go back tomorrow to make sure it’s ohkeigh.
John E. Morelock, February 2007
John Morelock writes the “Run Gently Out There” column featured in Ultrarunning magazine and ran his first ultra in 1986. He has completed several ultras – most of them in the Pacific Northwest. He lives on Whidbey Island in Washington state with his wife, Kathy.