Standing by peaceful waters
by Greg Hitchcock 8.13.03

I’ve stopped here beneath two Jeffrey Pines whose roots reach down into Lake Tahoe. Behind, The Observer, Mt. Tallac, with its snow-filled crevasses forming a white cross, but now fully melted, hinting that a new season will return that promise of hope. A bench made of stone and redwood sits as a memorial to my brother. One-half mile across the calm water and what seems like a lifetime ago, we spread his ashes into a blue so deep and cold it will quickly crush the breath of the strongest lungs. Above, the cobalt sky seemed to the eye to extend forever.

The sandy trail calls and I resume my running. Through every pause, every life moment, good and bad, important or transitory, I have resumed my running.

This is where it began, the real running. On these trails fashioned on the decomposing granite, one footfall has followed another, taken me from a boy to a man. Taken me first to the baked dirt tracks of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley, on to locations throughout the West, and then across the country and eventually across an ocean. The running has brought me friends, my best friends, some minor glory, ideal health, a couple of relationships, led me into the jobs I have toiled at and loved. Running has made my life; it defines me still and informs nearly every thought and decision. I cannot escape it, nor would I want to. Rather, as I face another life transition, I embrace my running.

Running has saved me. Saved me first from taking the wrong turn as a teenager that I seemed ready to take. Instead I ran into a whole pack of running brothers and a life filled with shared jokes and miles, highlights and miles, disappointments and miles, and sometimes just plain miles. Two exceptional high school coaches pointed us in the right direction and said run, run with determination up the hills, run how you feel going down, run in the snow and carefully on the ice, run on the soft earth.

My mind races to the past for names -- Kent, Gordon, Dan, John, Jaime, Richard, Rick, Mike, Danny, Tom, Jim, Alex -- these and others were not only those I shared the miles with, but life, and they were among the best I have ever known at just being human. And we taught each other how to run and not a little bit about how to really live.

This is where I ran from early pain of things I lost and never had; where I ran with joy of accomplishments and love. Then we make the running hard, more complicated than it is and we get lost. We start trying to figure out why not to run, why it is just not worth it anymore. Then someone, really an angel, shows us again how natural and easy this should be.

Running has saved me again, this time from the deep blue of a marriage coming to an end. The doctors, my family and my friends all said to move my muscles. So I ran. They were right. It healed. Not on its own. No, I needed the people too, those who share my blood and those, new and old, who understand and appreciate me --but without the running I would not be whole, never whole again. The injuries and limitations that have made it difficult seemed to recede. It was as if God reached down to the tired legs and said let the boy run again. And I did.

The nightmare has receded and the dreams come alive again. As I fly with a renewal of energy across the meadows, past the mountain mule ears which are not like mules but instead an army of rabbits at full alert, recording every foot placement on the hallowed ground we are privileged to cross. Then I realize that everyone must have their running, something that centers them, that tells them they are okay when things are not okay, strengthens their ego to withstand the inevitable attacks, provides some purpose when we seem beside the point, something that lets us be young again and dream.

And then I grind up a hill. The hills do not come as easily as they did at one time. This is the natural order, of course. The path gets a little more sandy in this spot, making progress even more difficult. The stand of trees provides a cooling, and then the transition to a downhill and firmer footing. And the running is easier again. This is familiar. The forests and meadows change, new trees rise and old ones fall, but the ground remains the same so I know where I am. This is the trail home.