After the six months at the cabin followed by the two weeks in California and Arizona, I now find myself back in Vancouver wondering if I can hold on to all that peace and happiness I’ve been cultivating. A cacophony of seagull cries, deafening sirens and thunderous garbage trucks, the city feels stale: a day old loaf tossed in a back alley dumpster. Happiness costs and there’s too much dog shit.
What to do? What to do?
What I’m not going to do is let this city run off with my happiness. No, I’m going to own my happiness and for me that means moving my body, which has the added benefit of firing up my mind.
Fortunately, there’s a track at the park around the corner from my new place of residence. On Tuesday I took advantage of this by running around and around and around and around and around and around and around, and around it. Sidewalks make my knees scream and my shins howl, but if I stuff some cheap-y drugstore orthotics into my sneakers and stick to the cushy track surface, pain and suffering are minimized. I’m still amazed that I’ve taken up running. It’s an activity I never thought I’d do, ever. Back in university, I ran with a friend of mine who was on the basketball team, but it never amounted to much; the cigarettes and beer pong tournaments might have gotten in the way. For the twenty years that followed, I just thought it was lame, as I did with many other forms of exercise. Never say never though cause here I am at 45 with what just might be–dare I say it—a healthy addiction.
I can’t trust my infatuation just yet because, let’s be honest, running around a track is dull. If I hadn’t begun running on trails in the damp freshness of an old growth rainforest scaring robins from repose, spying woodpeckers as they drummed their way up and down hollow trees, and resting to breathe in that stimulating waterfall air, it’s likely I wouldn’t be running today, or any day. It was never a conscious choice to start running, it was more of a natural and gradual progression from hiking. Nature has this way of lifting you up, pumping you full of energy to the point of bursting if you don’t find a release; so you run, and it feels awesome.
Running in California felt even more awesome, as long as you hit the trails early to avoid getting scorched. Lulled by the pale yellow grasses swaying in the cool morning breeze, I’d jog and jog. My eyes darting from patches of violet to specks of tangerine, to a Redwing Blackbird perched on a cattail, and then pausing on a turquoise Bluebird as it messed around with insects on the dusty ground. I ran next to a creek that flowed invisibly behind mounds of California Buckeye and stands of willow. And let’s not forget the goats! As a means to manage an influx of nonnative invasive species, 150 odd goats were set out to graze to their heart’s content on the naughty weeds within the confines of a portable electric fence. Their comical expressions were worthy of slowing my pace to lose a few staring contests. Add to all of this colour and life, the sounds of deep house pulsating from my earphones, and the experience was more akin to flying.
Where I go, my running shoes go, and so they went with me to Arizona. Drier and hotter than northern California, I ran with a large metal bottle of ice water that jingled and jangled for the first 15 minutes or so until it warmed. As I ran passed tufts of bursages, my eyes rarely left the pale brown sandy desert soil. Keeping an eye out for rattlesnakes and large burrows, I ran along side a farmer’s fallowed field where I spotted a roadrunner as it whizzed by me with a lizard dangling from its bill, and then I sped through a long forgotten vineyard where wild bunnies startled me again and again as they bounded out from under the dead grey tangles of grape branches. A truly exhilarating experience.
Running around a track in a park in the city is the opposite of exhilarating, and hardly an experience. I will persevere though, but with a little help from a friend, my bike. Last night, I lifted my old Peugeot off the wall hooks that have supported her for over half a year, wiped off the fine layer of dust, pumped up the tires and took her out for a glorious spin. Biking through the city is as good as tearing off a steamy chunk of baguette, slathering it with farm fresh butter, popping it in your mouth, chewing until all the savoury goodness has been absorbed into your happy brain, and then following it with a hearty swig of an earthy red wine. Meandering my way through the quiet residential neighbourhoods of east Vancouver, admiring much-loved gardens, smiling at the old man walking his big black and white cat, nodding at bikers heading off in the opposite direction, I came across a smart little café where I locked my bike to pole and went inside. Sitting down with a piping hot cappuccino, I pulled out my laptop and began to write.