Monday, October 17, 2011

Running in Michigan, Riding in DC

I grew up on this road.

View Larger Map
To the north is the house I lived in for 18 years, and helped build. Behind it is a barn which I also helped build. We built the barn with wood from my grandfather's barn that had tilted in a heavy wind. My grandparents' place is over on Polk Avenue, about a mile northwest of here.

There is a large septic field the Hulk and I dug out on the near side of the house. That was a less-than-ideal spring break for a high school kid, digging through several years of acquired family excrement. It was cold and wet, and the smell was quite powerful.

In the woods to the west there's also an old chicken coop, the remnants of a railroad where my great grandfather loaded virgin timber on cars headed to Lake Michigan and Chicago. I planted those pine trees in the field to the west; they were only saplings, nearly free from the Michigan DNR. My brother and I used a bladed step-on, wedging it into the ground eight inches, dropping the roots of the seedlings in it, pouring a bit of water in, and then pushing the dirt around the roots with our feet. I'd thought the dry summer that followed had killed them all off, but I see many have lived.

When my great-grandfather was a boy, there were only a few patches beneath the canopy where you could see the sky. The virgin pine trees blotted out the sun. We used their roots, thousands of years old, now dead, as fences along our property.

I rode my first bike on this road, from my house to the school you can see to the southwest. It's about three hundred yards.

It's not big news, but people are leaving Michigan, as I did. The school I attended, like many in the area, is now closed down. I'm told the state of Michigan is grinding up many of its paved roads, the cost of maintaining them now exceeding the state's ability to pay for their upkeep.

A part of me wants this to happen, maybe because as I age, I have come to appreciate the aging of things: cities, wine, cars, people.

I ran yesterday along the C&O Canal in Georgetown. First, I dodged cameramen posing tourists. Then things thinned out and there were only couples out walking, cyclists, and other joggers. Running jars my brain. I couldn't think or breathe, as I do on the bike even when I'm struggling my hardest. There was none of the glorious floating sensation, the effect of connecting to perhaps the most efficient machine ever invented, one which directs energy directly into forward motion.

I wondered if I had taken up cycling as a kid if I'd have fallen in love with it like I fell for it three years ago. Probably not. It's a hard sport, with not a lot of glory, and glory was what lured me then.

My run yesterday returned me to that pre-cycling time, that pre-adulthood time, that time when I dug my own shit trench, when I farmed goats and read adolescent literature, that time before cell phones and before 9/11, that time when communism fell as if God himself had struck it down and our Red Dawn fears evaporated and Muslims had not yet replaced communists as bogeymen; that time when my brothers ran with me and they left me early on and I plodded home, and they were already sitting on the porch drinking jugs of water and leaving puddles of sweat that disgusted our mother and delighted our father ("Animals," he'd say).

That is one advantage of having bodies--the memory of movement is not all in your head. Memory is not only a place or mental picture, a Google Map you can pull up, but also a sensation that comes again to you the moment you break into a run, reach for a shovel to dig the foul earth, or hold your loved one, or take a spin on a damn near perfect Fall day.

No comments: