The back yard looked covered with snow in the 4 a.m. moonlight, but it was just the first frost – 23 degrees.
There’s no denying it anymore: the year is ending. The woods have turned to yellow and brown; soon Vermont will be a world of black and white. As the sunlight slants lower and leaves fall and the air smells of ice, even thoughts on a run become piercing.
“Forced to become a philosopher before my 30th year,” Beethoven wrote in a long sad letter when he realized he was becoming deaf. Philosophers, I suppose Beethoven supposed, do not act – they reflect – shadows of shadows.
The 4-mile run along Green River was the first place I felt at home three years ago after I quit my job, left my friends, rented out the house and moved across the country to a place where I knew no one – well, one girl.
Over a wooden bridge, past a dilapidated red farmhouse built in 1761, there’s a couple of businesses along Green River Road – one guy fixes solar panels; two doors down a guy makes fly rods. For some reason, running past those places gave me peace – they seemed like such reasonable things to do.
I’m running now because I managed to perform knee surgery on myself this year. Not an easy thing to do.
While waiting for spring to come, I could barely walk. My orthopedist told me I had torn the meniscus in my knee. I knew when I had done it, too – on a 3-mile run on Christmas day.
The doctor said she could “clean it up” for me when I couldn’t stand it anymore. I thanked her and hobbled from the office, thinking, “No one’s cleaning up my knee.”
I sought a second opinion and that doctor said that when I couldn’t stand it any more, I should have surgery and get it cleaned up.
Spring came. I couldn’t run, but I could ride my bike without too much pain, so I did, grinding up the worst hills, telling myself it would make my knee better. But a cold snap made it hurt so bad I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t bend my leg or straighten it. So I made an appointment to surrender to the orthopedist.
Spring came for real. A few days before the appointment, the knee felt better. But I know myself – I’m such a bullshitter – so I went ahead and delivered myself to the doctor.
“How does it feel?” she said.
“Does this hurt?”
“How about this?”
“What have you been doing?”
I told her about the killer bike rides, up the longest, steepest hills I could find, hoping I could strengthen the muscles enough to take the strain off my knee.
“Well, you fixed it,” she said. “You did what I would have done. You ground off the torn part of the meniscus on one of those hills.”
“I ground it off?”
“Your body absorbed it, and now you’re fine.”
Ho ho. The only living boy who did his own knee surgery. On a bicycle, no less.
Now it takes 2 miles to warm up enough to jog as fast as I used to do backwards, hungover and asleep. But I’m fine. I don’t have to be a philosopher.
Running back along the Green River, the sun has slipped behind the western ridge. It’s cold, cold. Woodsmoke in the air. Old dogs sit by their houses, watching me go by. A kid has tied a picture of a witch to a tree, hoping to scare someone, anyone. I manage to pick up the pace for a good long … 5 seconds, then slow back to my decrepit trot.
I don’t care. I’m out here, running in the woods. The road rises. Up ahead the trees are bathed in light. Sunlight streams through a notch in the mountains. I can get there before it goes away, and I do.
Colors return to the world. The dark understory of the woods is lit by light reflected off the leaves. The woods are ancient. This has all happened before.
All we need is just a little bit of light.
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