Running With Heather, Volume I

Ya, ya, I know Heather still lives in San Diego. But that doesn’t mean I can’t pretend:

I dialed you last minute to see if you wanted to scout out a trail a colleague told me about. You’re game, as always.

We hit Squires Lake trailhead the instant we pull out of Bellingham’s rain. We marvel that it’s so close to the freeway, so accessible.

You prop your runners on the bumper of Blue, cinch the laces one last time (the Solomon’s that look just like mine. Them’s good trail runners) and I hand you my key ring: “Put this in my butt, will you?” We giggle and you drop my keys into the zip pocket on the bum of my pants. We marvel at how we ever ran without putting things in our bums.I pull on the new running gloves my soon-to-be father-in-law purchased me for my birthday. You cup your hands together, blow into them. I offer you my hot air too. My mom says I’ve always had a lot. The sky looms grey; the trees shout green.

From the trailhead sign, it’s straight up .04 of a mile. We walk, catch up on work drudgery—will the economy pick up enough for you to find work, will society smarten up enough to realize the value of a good education?—and our breath becomes shallow. We shut up for a bit.

Green—Grinch green—slicks rocks and wraps trees. We jump over a fallen log, and, almost to the top, plug in our headphones. It’s fact between us that while nature’s serenity soothes the soul, DJ Tiesto’s mixes rev the heart. The path splits at the top of the hill. A brackish lake, from where we stand, seems hardly worth the hike up. You point right, counterclockwise. We pick up a slow jog, our bodies creaking in “old” age and lack of use. (All that oily pizza we ate the night before, apparently, does not lube the joints like we’d joked.) But, the incline keeps building, and our lungs keep collapsing. We walk. Earplugs out, conversation in. “You know what I had for breakfast?” Donuts, pumpkin scones, or some delicious treat, you confess. “I had mango sticky rice, a hot chocolate and a piece of berry cheesecake yesterday.” We always feel better when we’ve at least verbally vomited the intake. And you always make me feel human for succumbing to the succubi: chocolate, caramel, cookies, cakes. Lots of beer.

Better start jogging. Rocks force our ankles to work, which we always love. Our pace quickens downhill, and before us, a carpet of green, spread out for us to jog upon. The trail curves clockwise and takes us deeper into a Technicolor jungle. But there’s only one color: blanched asparagus green. It shrouds limbs and rocks. It’s hair-like, and we stop for a minute to run our fingers through its damp fur. You want to exfoliate with it, if only it was sterilized.

The loop swings wide, and we see a turn off to the Pacific Northwest Trail. Our legs, weak from eating more than running, remind us to take the easy route, especially since the PNT heads all the way out to the Continental Divide.  Down, down, and we spot another sign, to Beaver Lake Loop. We don’t even discuss jogging right past the first sign, but then, because our hearts found a steady rhythm and because we had to know what lay around the lake loop, when I pointed to the turn-off with my other hand raised in question, you darted past me without even a second-guess. The loop is quick, mostly flat except one quick climb that we both heave ourselves up, jogging. There’s a low high-five at the top, and we hook back up with the main trail.

Just before we catch a glimpse of Squires Lake again, we run through a mantilla veil of fog. I tap you and we pull our ear buds out: “It’s other-worldly in here,” I say. “Amazing,” you reply. Off we go again, Tiesto turning beats and legs over. I hear your stride pound across the three wooden bridges, the ones that divide the lake from the swamp. I can see the end of the lake again, and I’m just not ready for it to be over. I’ve got a hunch you feel the same way. We usually do when it comes to running.

We dance on our toes as we hopscotch through the long roots, finger-like, of ancient evergreen trees. This is why we love trails: the terrain, the timing, the technicality. The dancing quickens your pace and I have to work hard up a small hill to catch you. That’s it; we’re at the junction that leads to the parking lot.

I watch from behind as you navigate past the herculean rocks, jump over the fallen tree again. It makes me smile and feel so joysoul, I realize we have to run more. So I grab my camera from the car and we chase a Vizsla puppy up the hill. We plug our pods back in and we only expect to go a third of the way around and back—just to get some photos, we say. After all, we haven’t run in ages and thirty minutes is a good start.

But then, without hesitation, we just keep going. Our legs, hearts don’t need it, but our souls do. Even the hills—even the hills—make my heart sing. I remind myself to remind you that this is why we moved here: to run trails that make our insides weep.

We’ve run the loop—again. I skip to the last Tiesto song and blare it, repeat it four times all the way down the hill to the parking lot. The song is titled “Breathing” and it catalyzes one of those running moments. The kind I’ve only had on trails. Like that one time when we cruised down the hill in Mission Gorge, totally lost, and Eddie Vedder wailed in my ear and I couldn’t think of a single thing but where my feet should land and the next word in the song and how glorious the day was and how happy I was that you sprinted downhill by my side. It was one of those times.

This is why we moved here, I say, as we wind earphones around mp3 players. We find a pub on the way home and have two beers—can’t leave all a void where all those calories just withered away. We talk about boys. About how it could get dark at two p.m., we didn’t care, so long as we could have runs like that. About our next backyard trail adventure.

A Letter to Myself, From Myself (how self-centered!)

Dear Linsey,

Remember eons ago, when Mom strung yarn from our bedroom doors down the stairs, outside around the tree, through the garage, over the washer and into the dryer to hide our Easter baskets? You loved following that thread, sometimes so intently, you’d bump into Jessica or Torrey, all of you with your heads down, wandering alongside a string. Lately, you’ve noticed a similar skein laced throughout your life; you’ve stepped alongside that thread until, low and behold, you’ve stumbled upon the whole ball of yarn.

It’s this idea that’s unraveled, the one about having less stuff. Having meaning with the stuff you do have. Loving what you have more instead of loving needing more stuff. When you trace the string back, you know that leaving the country for nine months and shoving all your shit in Mom’s garage and then carting around a yellow and black backpack was mostly about doing more with less shit. (That, or having an illicit child in some third world hospital.) It was like you attempted to do this without even knowing it.

At the same time, Mom and Dad moved out of the gigantor house in Agoura. Gone: Mom’s walk in closet, a third of the size of your bedroom. Gone: the black-bottomed-pool that you thought for sure had girl-eating sharks in it. Could you live without these amenities? Some part of you thought that when your parents moved to New Mexico, they would miss the rigor of keeping up with a Southern California lifestyle. Dad, though, told you that one of NM’s best features was the fact that nobody cared what the neighbor drove, or if their purse was Coach or TJ Maxx. And you could hear years of exhaustion lifting off of him when he said it. Up here, in WA, you don’t have to keep up with the Jones’ either because 1) you no longer live in the same zip code and 2) your Jones’ are actually sublime role models on how to live a modest, meaningful life.

However, at your new school, students comment on the number of clothes you own. “We’ve never seen you wear the same outfit twice.” (You’re delighted they pay such attention to your wardrobe. If only they’d scrutinize the comma rules with such detail.) A rush of Catholic guilt sweeps you when you hear this. Have you squandered too much of your (albeit, hard-earned) money on frivolous Cambodian-made clothes so that you won’t repeat outfits?

They are called "Air Puppets" if You Ever Need to Know. Or Really Scary Waving Things

And, this wanting more but needing less waves its ugly self around daily like one of those inflatable car-sales-tube-dudes as you contemplate your future marriage.

See, there’s this Beast, the Wedding Industrial Complex, as some so lovingly refer to it. The Beast’s glimmering fangs demand that you have letterpress invites gilded in gold. The Beast’s sharp scissoring claws command a three to four tiered cake dolloped in lacy scallops. The Beast’s beady, soulless eyes scream that if you don’t coordinate wedding colors, your marriage, your vows are doomed. And, worse yet, if your bridesmaids’ (of which there will be none) dresses are not of said color scheme, The Beast guarantees to ride in on his dragon and slay the pretty, nearly wedded bride.

Que horror!

But it’s so not you. Or rather, the you you’re trying to be. The you you left the country to find. To bring back in your black and yellow pack. And it’s not N, either, which endears you to him. And so every time you think, Oh! I must have this bolero made to go with my dress, consider that you’re feeding The Beast. Giving him what he wants. Making his skin reptilian and impenetrable and North Korean-like. Because the messages to buy more and spend more and do more just keep coming. And yes, you’re partially to blame: you love pretty things. You want pretty things.

But the best part about your upcoming marriage is that the man you’re marrying reminds you that you don’t need these things. And with him, you can feel safe knowing your wedding will not be about a sparkly tiara or carefully calligraphied invites or even table escort cards. In fact, it will be about the smiles on your faces. And your guests’. And the joy in your hearts.

The joy of Easter morning did not arise from the goodies in the basket, but from your journey to find them. Now, planning a wedding, journeying along another winding thread with N, you find the same thrill. And when you stop to think about it, between wedding blogs and Martha centerpiece craft instructions, you realize that even if you purchase glittering earrings, they’ll never light up your life as much as N’s smile. Because the best things in your basket—or in your marriage—will never be purchased.