Closets

From the Potato Patch

From the Potato Patch

Last weekend, I traveled to Kimball Union Academy in N.H., where I was a student from 1979-1983. I’d been invited to give a presentation on my work to faculty, staff, and alums, and as I began to prepare my talk, I realized that this was an opportunity to reflect more deeply on my high school years.

I began by opening up a box of paperwork that my mother had asked me to take off her hands. In the box I found poems of love and heartbreak, teen-age letters written home, and a stack of  high school grades. I took a deep breath and began to read. By the end of my high school career, I was on the honor roll and was given an Athlete of the Year trophy, but I’d forgotten how poor my grades were before that. I read through some cringe-worthy evaluations, including one from my freshman English teacher, Mr. Holland, who wrote, “Her main problem is that she consistently makes certain fundamental writing errors which she shows no interest in correcting.” What can I say, I was distracted! Sifting through the box was a worthwhile process, but before leaving for New Hampshire, I decided to have a driveway bonfire. I’m developing stricter standards for what takes up room in my closets!

BurnMy childhood was largely spent in rural Northern Vermont, moving and changing schools every few years. When I entered KUA as a freshman, I had some academic catching up to do, as well as some major cultural adjustments to negotiate. Those four years were tough, and I left KUA with decidedly mixed feelings about my high school experience. But something shifted last weekend. There was suddenly space for gratitude, as I realized that I’d spent those four years in boarding school struggling to develop courage; learning how to make mistakes and recover, how to change, how to be vulnerable and strong simultaneously; and learning how to be comfortable with ambiguity. Guessing that there might be others in the audience who could relate, I shared some of these insights during my presentation.

Trails2In the afternoon, after the post-talk chat, I decided to take a run down the hill to see if I could find the old ski trails. It took a while to find the entrance, but once I was in the woods, I could practically remember every hill and turn. I skied those trails so many times in high school that the memory of the terrain is embedded in my cells.

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Later that afternoon, at a reception back on campus, I ran into John and Anne Donaghy. They had co-coached the Nordic team and John had also been my favorite English teacher. I’d been thrilled to run into Anne a few years ago at a NENSA skiing event (blogged about in Very Good But Old Fashioned), but I hadn’t seen John in 29 years. Within minutes we were talking about running, skiing, and Jacques Lacan. I was quickly reminded of John’s edgy wit and how formative he was in my development as a thinker, writer, and, athlete.

The weekend was much richer than I’d anticipated. I departed with an understanding that adaptability is one of my strengths–as an artist, an academic, and a human being–and after all this time, I could suddenly see that Kimball Union created a context for the development of that strength. Gratitude.

Posted in Running, Uncategorized, X-C Skiing | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Whistle

TheWhistle_1Though I’ve been visiting the island since I was a little girl, Grand Manan has opened up to me in new ways since I started running. At 21 x 9 miles, it’s just the right scale, and there are abundant trails, long, flat stretches of road, and rolling hills to choose from. Last weekend, I tried a new route–running from the cottage in Castalia to the Whistle and back. After the run to the point, I trotted down to the rocky beach to take in the view.

TheWhistle2The Whistle is a lighthouse that perches on a relatively small ledge at the most northerly point on the island, and it is the spot to be at sunset. On any given day, a mix of locals and tourists gather to watch the sun dip below the horizon while catching up on island news.

TheWhistle3 On the beach, I breathed in the cool, salty air and watched a low hanging fog creep across the rocks. After a few minutes, I scrambled back up to the road for the return trip. This run is seriously hilly, but the weathered concrete is pretty smooth and there’s a decent shoulder if hips and knees need a rest.

TheWhistle5After suffering through my first half-marathon on Grand Manan last July, I had decided I’d put off the longer races until the cooler fall temperatures. Two days of running on the island might have changed my mind…

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Watershed

 

 

WhaleCove_BlogMay26

I’m writing from Grand Manan Island, where I’ve been coming since I was a little girl. The journey here has grounded me, as it always does. This morning I sit in the family cottage, looking out at a foggy Bay of Fundy, listening to cars pass by on the wet pavement. The challenges of the last few months are beginning to slip away, and I’m grateful.

Through some mysterious alchemy, my thoughts and emotions feel more organized when I’m here. My plan to develop a series of drawings about water (watersheds, specifically) is suddenly taking form in my sketchbook; my summer running schedule is mapped out. I feel the anticipatory pleasure of having just enough of a plan in place to give me purpose, with enough open space for the unexpected.

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White Space

Lucinda Bliss, Pineland 1, pencil and watercolor on paper, 22" x 30"

Lucinda Bliss, Pineland 1, pencil and watercolor on paper, 22″ x 30″

On March 8th, I participated in the Bretton Woods nordic half marathon. As I wrote in My Visual Cue , it was my first Nordic race in 29 years, and I set out to enjoy the experience, not to compete. I have memories of brutal race experiences in high school, at Kimball Union, and I wanted to dip a toe back into the culture without jumping fully into the world of pain.

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

The majestic hotel set the stage for the race, as we queued up in the fields below. The Bretton Woods Nordic Center grooms 100k of trails, and I was eager to cover 21k of the gorgeous ups and downs.

I intentionally started in the middle of the pack, not wanting to get pulled out too fast. There was quite a bit of shuffling as the pack narrowed down to two sets of tracks.

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

 

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

 

At 4k in, I was having a blast (bib #197), and my wax was perfect, which made the hills a breeze. My form was pretty rusty, but at least I had forward momentum!

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

The issue of wax was significant in this race. A few days earlier, I’d received the following email with the official Swix waxing recommendations:

GLIDE:
Pre Tune ski with Glide Wax Cleaner (I0084) to remove any contaminants in the base, wipe clean with Fiberlene (T0150).  LF05 or LF06 will be base layer for glide wax.  Race Wax will be HF08BW (25F to 39F)for 22km race, Marathon Wax Black for the 44km.
Powder will be FC78 Super Cera

KICK:
VG35 Binder Ironed In
VR45 moving into VR50

If using mechanical grip skis be sure to apply Warm Rocket spray or F4 to Glide zones and kick zones.  Temps will approach freezing and potential for icing in kick zone is high.
Top Coat will be HVC Warm or Rocket Warm.

Panic shot through me as I read. I haven’t raced in a long time, and I couldn’t even interpret the email, much less follow the instructions. I forwarded the message to friend and wax wizard, Rick Chalmers, hoping he could help me relax and come up with a plan. He was sure it would be a klister day, and said,  “Do you see snow in the trees? If not, stick with the klister!” The best skiers can double pole a marathon on rolling hills, but I would need a workable wax that would give me kick. The klister was perfect! Throughout the entire race, particularly after the 12k mark, skiers were talking wax. Some were calling out for waxing help from the edge of the course, manically trying to rub in some hard blue before jumping back into the tracks.  Even though I wasn’t “racing,”  my arms were shot by the half-way point, and I needed to take advantage of the leg strength I’d built up through the running season. That was only possible with wax left on my skis. At the finish, I was spent, but the skis could easily have done the full marathon!

Looking at photos of myself during this race has been an education, and humbling. For some reason, I expected to retain excellent form after 29 years away from the sport. After studying the pix, I have some clear goals in place for next year.

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

Developing upper body strength and putting in more hours on the trails are at the top of the list. If I’d had the strength, I could have double poled long sections of the trail; instead, I had to save my arms for long, flat stretches. I felt confident on the skis–my ski legs began to come back this year–now I can work on efficient form: keeping my body and arms straight, rather than twisting my body and letting my arms cross over.

 

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

As for double-poling technique, I was cocky about that. I’d always been strong in that area, and I thought I had it securely in my nordic toolkit. If that were the case, I wouldn’t be squatting over my skis at the finish! It’s easy to see how much energy I’m wasting by bending up and down, rather than using core strength to propel forward.

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

 

 

 

I finished the race in a hair under two hours, nearly being lapped by the full marathon winners. Though I was slow, I finished happy and eager for more, which seems the perfect way to re-enter the world of racing.

 

 

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Little Mouse Running

 

3After my second desert run, up the Catalina Highway toward Mt. Lemmon, I realized that in the Southwest, I would need to carry water for any run over an hour. I’ve never come up with a good solution for lugging water while running. Hydration belts have always seemed a bit ridiculous to me, and I don’t like the feeling of being encumbered by excess gear when running. Still, knowing I was a bit dehydrated after the last run, I decided to stop by Fleet Feet Sports in Tucson to check out the options. After a great conversation with an enthusiastic saleswoman-runner, I walked out with an Amphipod RunLite AirStretch hydration belt. The belt came highly recommended for a few features: moveable parts, a cell phone pocket, and the secure but stretchy and velcro adjustable belt. While chatting about the different hydration systems at Fleet Feet, I asked for local running recommendations, and she raved about Sabino Canyon, adding that I should head out early and stay off the trails, due to the snakes being out early this year.

The next morning I had some work to take care of, so I got off a bit late. By the time I arrived at Sabino, there were swarms of people–locals, tourists, runners, cyclists; it was hard to find a place to park! Still, I was excited to be back. When my sons were young, we lived in Tucson for 6 months while I was finishing up my MFA, and after we had moved to Maine, we flew out for annual Christmas gatherings. As I looked up the canyon road, and around at the young families, images of my sons as little boys flooded back.

1 As I started running, I noticed bright green cottonwoods, and remembered 4that the winter melt makes the canyon lush with unexpected trees and large pools of water. This also makes it a popular watering hole for mountain lions, though not during the day when the paths are jammed with human activity.

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The day was heating up, and my head cold seemed to have sapped my lung strength. I decided, tissues in hand, that I’d still try to complete the length of the canyon road (about 3.5 miles in), but that I would take it very easy and enjoy the sights along the way.

6As I neared the steep final stretch, I looked up at a craggy peak and was sure I saw the rocky outcrop shift! It was probably a hiker, but I could imagine a puma up there, taking in the view.

I’m in Tucson helping my mom pack up for a move, and yesterday, she handed me a file of drawings, letters, and report cards from my childhood. The file included a series of short illustrated stories: “The Shark,” The Dolfin [sic],” and “Me,” along with poems about a green snake, a white wolf, and “a little mouse running.” As a young girl, it seems I had lots to say about the emotional lives of animals (they’re lonely, they find best friends, they hide behind trees…), but in “Me,” I wrote: “I really don’t know what to say about my myself…I just moved to burlington and befor that I lived in bakersfield and befor that in Enosburg. Befor that in Cambridge befor that I lived in boston mass. and befor that I don’t remember THE END [sic].” This gripping tale ends with a small drawing of a house. Perhaps there’s a clue in this story as to why I love mobility, and perhaps it’s just more interesting to imagine what it feels like to be a cougar on a rocky outcrop than to figure out what to say about “Me.”

7I made my way to the end of the paved trail and took in the view. The air was hot and still, and after a look around and a sip of water, I set out for the mellow run down. As I descended, I could see the crescent moon, faint against the blue above.

89I saw a fair number of runners and a few cyclists throughout the trip, and had to smile at the signage for the hazardous bridge crossings.10 This one is a pretty fabulous artistic rendering of the potential hazards of a bike crash.

I made it down to the base, where I met back up with my mom, who’d been walking the lower part of the canyon. She shot a pic in which I look like very much like a tech-loving running geek. I admit it, my advisor from Fleet Feet was right–the Amphipod system is great. During the run, I slid the two bottles to the small of my back and kept the belt at my waist as she recommended. I hardly noticed the gear on the trail, and the bottles were empty when I reached the bottom. The little pocket for my phone/camera (and tissues) was handy as well.

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Thorny Questions

HeadingThe question that inspired me to start this blog in the first place–how to develop a life that’s in alignment with what lights me up–feels like a thorn in my side this week. Some unexpected challenges have come up, raising big questions about the coming year, and I’ve been in need of a long run to sort it all out. It’s been icy and cold in Maine–not conducive to long road runs–and I’ve come to depend on long runs in order to process mental thorns.

A few days ago, I flew out to Tucson to assist my mom with a move, and in spite of a head cold, I’ve been getting out for at least a short run every day. There are the rattlers, cyclists, and hot rods to look out for, but no black ice or snow banks. This morning, I ran up into the Coronado National Forest, on the road that leads to Mt. Lemmon. The mountain, at 9,159 feet, is the highest point in the Santa Catalinas and the journey up is stunning. Given my head cold, I didn’t have much lung strength, so I took a gentle, hour-long run into the hills.

Heading out of my mom’s yard, I could see the adventure ahead.

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3As the road winds its way up, it’s fun to take in the view back down toward the city:

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up, up, up…

And the ocotillo in bloom:6

8I wasn’t carrying any water, so after a few miles up the mountain, I decided I should head back to the house. The cyclists were coming in a steady flow from below, as the 25 mile route to the peak is a popular weekend trek.

9The day was heating up into the high 70s, and it was the right choice to turn around and make my way back down the mountain. I don’t tend to do well in the heat, and I had the tell tale beet red face when I finished the trip.

hotfaceThe run didn’t banish the thorny questions, but it did seem to sort them in a way that has allowed me to be present in the day. Clarity will come.

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My Visual Cue

A week ago, just after I signed up for the Bretton Woods Nordic Half Marathon, I came down with the stomach flu. I’m almost mended, and the plan is to head to N.H. tomorrow for packet pick up, touring the course, and no doubt lots of conversation about how to wax (old snow with temps shifting from low 30s to 40s during the race). This will be my first x-c ski race in 29 years, and I’m excited (and, I suspect, over-thinking it!). My plan is to just enjoy a few hours of skiing and not take it too seriously. In preparation, I thought I’d remind myself of what it looks like when I bite off more than I can chew. Last night I flipped through some pix of my first (only) half-marathon on Grand Manan Island last July (blogged about in Salt in My Eyes). This image is my reminder to take it easy this Saturday. Two miles into the half, and I looked like this:

lesson3_blogGreat, only 11.1 miles to go. Yup, it hurt the entire time. So this is my visual cue to have a blast on Saturday–to just cruise for the first 10k, assess how I feel, then pick it up or continue to tour to the finish.

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