Be as You Are – Let Life In

I had the best run of my life this morning.  I never thought I’d hear myself say that a five mile run was easy and I enjoyed it.  I also may never say it again, but today I felt like I was flying and I could have completed double the distance and then some, which is a good thing since I am registered for the ODDyssey half marathon in May.

I’ve never been a runner.  I went out for track one year in high school and all I remember about it, in addition to most of the meets being long, cold, and boring, it was clear that my lack of speed and enthusiasm were indicators that I should stick to swimming.  Although if I had stopped to consider the fact that my first memory of swimming was cheering coming from the bleachers when I finished my first event (a full two lengths after everyone else did) I might have given track a second try.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how strange life is and today was no exception.  I recalled the conversation that took place in 2003 and in many ways started a transformation.

“Beth, Trudy here.  The annual fundraiser for the Omaha Opera Guild is coming up and I’d love for you to chair the silent auction.”

“Me?  I don’t even belong to the guild and I wouldn’t know the first thing about chairing a silent auction.”

Not one to take no for an answer, Trudy named a dozen reasons why I was perfect for the job as well as why it would be a great experience.  I don’t think she took a single breath and before I knew it I agreed.

After conducting dozens of meetings, making hundreds of phone calls, and compiling the list of auction items and prices I found myself facing the most daunting task of all.  It was time to find a dress for this very formal event.  While trying on one size after another I realized that my entire wardrobe was designed with stretchy material and waistbands and I had done a good job of convincing myself that it wasn’t that I had gained weight but that my scale was off by thirty pounds.

One of the auction items that caught my eye was a trial membership to Curves, a women’s fitness center.  The cartoon-like image of a woman in decreasing sizes and the caption “We’re Downsizing” made me laugh (and think) and in a moment of impulse I bid on it and ‘won.’

I procrastinated for a couple of months and it took a doctor’s report that my blood pressure was high to motivate me enough to redeem the trial membership and join Weight Watchers.  Outside of chasing kids around the house and walking between the parking lot and my office I hadn’t exercised in over fifteen years and I was embarrassed to find that the thirty minute circuit workout wore me out.

Three years, thirty pounds lighter and many inches smaller I looked and felt better than I had since my early twenties. Between 2003 and 2006 a connection at Curves led me to Pilates and my instructor turned me on to kickboxing, which I loved more than anything I’ve done before or since but unfortunately my knees didn’t feel the same way.

I researched options and evaluated treatments for osteoarthritis. I read several articles that promoted strengthening the muscles around the knees as a method of pain management.  I knew I didn’t want to go back to a sedentary lifestyle so I decided to give it a try.  Among the recommended forms of exercise was my favorite, swimming, and one the doctor recommended, biking.

It was winter and I didn’t own a bike so I tried out a spinning class and was hooked.  I became a regular and I learned that spring isn’t followed by summer, it’s followed by triathlon season.

One of the other regulars stopped me after class one day, “Beth, you should do a triathlon this summer.  There’s a great one coming up in July and a bunch of people from here are doing it.”

I laughed, “You’re kidding, right?”

“Why not?” she said.

“Well, for starters I don’t own a bike and secondly I don’t run.”

She convinced me that people walk during the run portion of the event, I knew I could swim, and I’d been thinking about buying a bike.  I registered for the sprint distance triathlon associated with the Cornhusker State Games and tried to wrap my head around swimming just under a mile, biking twelve miles, and last but not least the 3.1 mile run walk segment; then I bought a bike.  Since then I’ve completed seven triathlons and five half marathons, each one of them became a story of their own.

This morning the timeline of events and people circled through my head as I ran and it dawned on me that every time I acted on “impulse,” unexpected and wonderful things happened.  I realized that it wasn’t impulse at all; when I open my heart and my head to new experiences, when I follow my instincts, and when I pay attention to the ‘me’ that I was meant to be, amazing things happen.

Do Geese Smell Fear?

Fall is my favorite time to ride my bike or go for a run along the towpath. It may be because it’s the time of year I discovered the canal and realized that it was a ‘towpath’ with a history and purpose, and not a ‘toepath,’ which in my imagination was a narrow and treacherous place to run beside the river.

I could say it’s the cooler temperatures, or the explosion of gold, red, and orange along the trail, but reality is that from October to March the path is goose free and that makes me happy.

Before I go on, I should share that I have an extreme fear of birds.  It doesn’t matter how big or how small they are, I’m certain that they are out to get me.  I won’t set foot into the aviary at the zoo, let alone sit in the waiting room at the train station if a swallow has somehow found its way into the building.

I’m not sure where the fear originated, it might have stemmed from watching Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds at an impressionable age. Or it maybe it was being dive bombed by birds of an unremembered species while the mowing the lawn as a teenager; of course, I’m not 100% certain whether either memory is real or imagined.

At any rate, the geese on the towpath present quite a problem for me. I’m not certain they ‘smell fear,’ but I am convinced that they, not so secretly, enjoy knowing that whenever I get within three feet of them the hair on the back of my neck rises, I break into a cold sweat and I’m instantly covered in goose bumps.

I’ve received a lot of guidance on how to ‘face my fear’ and ‘overcome my obstacles’ as it relates to the taunting flock of feathers that guard the towpath from spring until fall.  The advice ranges from hissing and clapping at them to instructions to raise my arms above my head, make my hands look like claws, and growl really loud while hopping on the path.  I’m pretty sure the guy who passed along that ‘advice’ just wanted to see if I’d actually do it.

I have to admit I was tempted.

thoughts on the ‘lake of a million memories’

When I started my ‘Guide to Writing Descriptive Settings’ class in late May, I was certain that I wouldn’t tackle writing about Big Sand Lake, I was positive it was too big to capture into words.

I didn’t think I could describe how thrilling it is to cut like a diamond through glass on one ski behind a speeding boat, or the beauty of the sunsets on a leisurely pontoon ride.  I had no idea how to explain the way laughter echoes across the water, or the summers of swimmer’s itch, familiar and quirky ‘haunts’, or the memorable bike rides along the Heartland Trail.

Through the course of the 6 weeks of class, I decided it would be fitting for the final assignment. The objective of the assignment was to create a mental map and use sensory descriptions to bring a few places along the way to life through words.

The challenge was that I wanted to capture the essence of a million places and as many memories. I had no idea how I was going to write about something so big and so personal.

With 48 hours left until the classroom closed, I went for a run. I still hadn’t written a word.

As often happens, I had a breakthrough while running along the towpath.  In the heat and solitude of the morning, memories filled my heart, the canal blurred behind tears, and scenes from life on Big Sand rolled through my mind.

In the end, this wasn’t just an assignment; it became an emotive connection of my present, past, and future, and an experience in what it means to ‘write from the heart’.

Big Sand - The Lake of a Million Memories

The Lake of a Million Memories

Memories strike at strange times and in unexpected ways.

I have a relationship with the towpath and the canal. Its constant but ever-changing presence embodies the evolution in my life.  Along the canal, in the quiet of the morning, my heart opens and my thoughts are unfiltered and wandering.

Today my mind roamed through the memories of Big Sand Lake, the vacation spot of my youth and my adulthood.

It’s not a destination; it’s more than hours on the beach or rainy days spent playing Risk indoors. One summer after another, I traveled from the innocence of childhood through the fleeting pain of unrequited teenage love, to the joys of motherhood, and the challenges that face an adult.

Through too many moves and changes to count, I always knew that in the heat of August we would return to the quiet beach on the bay. We’d come back to familiar places and make new discoveries.

Some experiences are the same for my children as they were for me.

Couzzin’s Candy Store is frozen in time; jars of mouth-watering treats line the shelves and paint the tables with a rainbow of color. They’re filled with every candy you can imagine from jaw breakers to dots, including multicolored gummy snakes as long as my son’s arm. Every year we’re tempted by the medley of chocolates and the variety of homemade fudge.  We each leave with white paper bag full hand-picked sweets clutched in our hand.

Memories converged as I pictured my children playing on the beach. I saw myself through them, and recalled hours in the sun and secret moonlit swims. My musings meandered to recent summers and they were ‘on location’, filming the latest escapade of three outdoor adventurists.

“Crikey, mate. I think we’ve stumbled across a nest of turtle eggs.   Be very quiet now, so as not to disturb them,” my son said, in his best Australian accent.

Names and images sped through my mind much faster than I ran:  Moondance Ranch, Woodtick Theatre, the Logging Camp, and the Dorset House, each thought accompanied by a snapshot or a snippet of conversation.

I never lived there, but I grew up on Big Sand.

This summer I return once again, this year to celebrate the 50th year of my life and to welcome the promise of tomorrow.

Minnesota may be the land of 10,000 lakes, but Big Sand is the lake of a million memories.

Chicka Boom, Chicka Brush

I left for my run without my ipod. When I realized it I was annoyed, but given the fact that it took me nearly 1/2 a mile to notice it, I’d have to admit it wasn’t a tragedy after all.

I’d spent most of the day feeling anxious and blue.  My mind filled with thoughts of all I can’t do.

Chicka boom, chicka boom…a strange and unfamiliar sound interrupted my silent soliloquy.  No wait, not chicka boom…chicka brush, chicka brush, like two shakes of a maraca followed by swish, the single beat of a brush on a drum.

The rhythmic sound grew closer and passed me.  Chicka, the two beat sound as his prosthetic bounced against the fine gravel,  then brush as his foot completed his stride.

Chicka brush, chicka brush…

We exchanged a silent wave and I watched him run into the sun.

Inspiration and perspective come at unexpected times and in unpredictable forms.

The next time I think “I can’t” or “it’s too hard,” I’ll do my best to remember chicka boom, chicka brush: the sound of yes I can.