Friday, October 9, 2009

Running When Chased

All the men on my father’s side run. In high school, they ran for the cross-country team and they kept right on running, several days a week, during their adult lives. Just last spring, my father and his two brothers – who are all hovering on or above age sixty – as well as my brother, ran the 8K Shamrock Shuffle in downtown Chicago.

I have tried to run. I have wanted to run. I have made goals and bought running clothes. But I don’t have the knees or lungs for the sport and the best I could ever muster was running a 5K in half an hour, once. “Do you run?” people will ask me, more often than I like to answer. “Only when being chased,” I would quip. I always thought it was a cute answer, at least until yesterday.

Since the opening of small game season, Andy and I have made a habit of walking the nearby ski trails for an hour or so in pursuit of grouse each afternoon after work. It’s been a lovely way to get some exercise. But for the last two days, we haven’t been the only ones on the trails.

Two days ago, we walked through a pasture of young red pines and aspen saplings, bordered on its south and north edges by two separate ski trails. As we tromped along the southern trail, joking about something, Andy suddenly stopped laughing and ground to a halt. “What?” I said loudly and obliviously. That’s when I looked to the left side of the path and saw Mama Moose nonchalantly nibbling some aspen leaves. We stood very still for a moment, looking for Baby Moose or Papa Moose. But Mama didn’t care much about us and after waiting a little longer we jogged past and continued on our walk, glad for the peaceful nature of the encounter.

Then yesterday, on the northern path, we came out of the woods into the pasture and saw what appeared to be a couple of large fallen trees in the distance. At least that’s what I thought they were until one of the tree trunks began eating aspen leaves and the other turned around, displaying a small rack of antlers: Mama and Papa Moose! Currently it’s the season when moose are in rut and bull moose are known to be aggressive to vehicles and not always understanding of human hikers. Neither Andy or I needed to get any closer to the pair, so we backtracked and decided to take the southern path instead.

Right before we reached the pasture on the southern path, a grouse ran across the path. Andy hurried after the grouse into the woods and I crept forward on the path to see if the pair of moose were visible from a more appropriate viewing distance. I couldn’t see anything. I crept a little farther up the trail. I looked behind and saw Andy gesturing frantically with a look of sheer horror on his face. He gestured some more.

A large bull moose, much larger than the one we’d see moments before, stood on the edge of the path, twenty yards away from me. In the scrubby brush to the side of the path, another cow stood. And the bull wasn’t just standing on the path, it was ambling slowly towards us. So we turned on our heels and ran. We ran until we were nearly back to Andy’s truck.

When I was on the swim team years ago, I remember seeing a t-shirt that depicted a shark closely following a swimmer down a pool lane. “Motivation,” the t-shirt read, “That which inspires.” Yesterday very well may have been some of the most inspired running of my life. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be doing an 8K any time soon.

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