Sunday, March 21, 2010

Winter's Last Hurrah

This morning, I stubbornly set out on a run at the Smithville Lake mountain bike trails with two primary goals in mind: 1) test running with Rick's Nathan hydration pack to see if it's a good fit for future long runs; and 2) raise a big, glorious middle finger to Winter ("Snow on the first day of Spring? Ha ha! You'll never keep me inside!"). Uncharacteristically, I had no mileage or time goals in mind. I was just going on a run.

On the frosty 20-minute drive to Smithville Lake, I was mesmerized by the snow drifts piled in ditches on the north side of the road. Their cascading shapes and impossible crevasses were works of art. Where one could peer in through a narrow opening in some drifts, there was an icy blue glow—like the "blue ice" that one sees in glaciers. Stunning.

As I neared the lake, I had difficulty maintaining a decent speed as all along the roadside there were flocks upon flocks of birds—American Robins, Killdeer, Dark-eyed Juncos, Song Sparrows... I could have amassed a decent species list if I'd slowed down. Several Harlan's Red-tailed Hawks flapped by overhead. Crossing a narrow branch of Smithville Lake, an American White Pelican was clumsily chasing a first-cycle Herring Gull in a game of "go (gimme that) fish".
Gulls on the boat slips at Camp Branch Marina
(Photo taken 14 March 2010)

Then I "accidentally" turned south at the little town of Paradise and ended up at Camp Branch Marina. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of gulls swirled around the lake and loafed on the roofs of the boat slips. Pelicans paddled though the shallow water. I felt the spandex in my running gear pulling me toward the trail, as the sight of so many birds — representative of infinite possibility — pulled me to reach for my binoculars. I scanned the flocks of birds briefly, then finally gave in and drove promptly to Sail Boat Cove, when I tumbled out of my vehicle into the icy parking lot, turned my face into the 20 mph north wind, and struck out onto the trail.

I descended into the trees, found shelter from the strong wind, and lost myself in pure joy for 7 or 8 miles.

This was a day when the run could have gone on forever. I gave new meaning to the word "singletrack" — where the only track through the snow was my own. Well, the only human tracks. Innumerable deer, coyotes, foxes, squirrels, raccoons, and possums had gone before me down these trails. In the quieter areas, snow clung to the branches of the trees. In some particularly dense stands of younger trees, the effect that of a crystalline cathedral.

I lost myself in a way that allowed me to forget pace and effort. My body walked when it wanted to walk, and ran when it wanted to run. I would find myself clicking down the trail at a smooth and steady pace and think, "Wasn't I just walking a moment ago? When did I start running?" Then I'd turn my mind off and enjoy the sight of a Fox Sparrow in the tree above me, or the audible pleasure of Northern Cardinals, Eastern Bluebirds, Tufted Titmice, Black-capped Chickadees, and Golden-crowned Kinglets in full song.

By the time I regained the trailhead, I had no concerns about Winter making an unwelcome return on the first day of spring. It is all part of the pulse of nature and the passing of time, and I was grateful for the opportunity to move effortlessly through those woods on such as day as this.

Random Thoughts

The Nathan pack was wonderful.

I returned to the marina after my run and took notes on a first-cycle Thayer's Gull, a rarity that is becoming easier to find at Smithville Lake in recent winters.

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