Geeking Out with Running Stories

Hoka CliftonsThis morning I ran an 11-mile out and back alongside the Rillito River in Tucson, Arizona. The paved trail runs for 12 miles along both sides of the dry riverbed, which makes it perfect for long running. The trail is the main attraction of the Rillito River Park and includes a few handy bathrooms and water stops along the way. I was told that the route is popular for elite training, and that Meb Keflezighi and others have been spotted streaking by.

When I travel, I tend to look for new running adventures, and in preparing for this journey to visit my mother in Tucson, I learned that one of her colleagues at the UAZ, writer Ander Monson, is also a runner (check out Ander’s excellent website, which links to his publications and other projects). Ander and I had an email dialogue about where we are in our training schedules, and since today was his last long run before tapering for a half marathon next weekend, I thought I’d join and see if I could keep up. We had a great run, and, as often happens when sharing the trail with a new friend, we geeked out with Ander, Athena, Lucindarunning stories.

Ander ran with a stroller, and Athena, his 18 month old daughter, spent the morning scanning for dogs and horses, cooing her approval, and periodically tossing socks, a frisbee golf disc, and a pink sippy cup onto the tar.  Ander and I both felt strong on the first half of the run. It was relatively cool, in the 70s, when we set out at 8:15 a.m. There was a light breeze at our backs, and we were chatting easily, running a pace in the high 8s. At the turnaround point, we took a quick break for nourishment—a clementine, honey almond butter, and a few crackers—and began the run back. After a quarter mile, the wind picked up dramatically. We were suddenly running straight into the hot sun, against a blasting headwind. I started to heat up, and though it felt like we were maintaining a steady pace, we’d slowed down quite a bit. The gusts were also kicking up desert sand from the riverbed, and I was wishing I’d brought my shades. Finally, with a single mile left–a long single mile–we stopped to refill our water bottles. Ander soaked his hat under the faucet and popped it back on his head. I followed suit–what a great way to cool down!

As we made our way back to the parking lot, I realized that my legs and feet still felt great and that I had no hip pain. My hips had been a bit sore over the last few weeks, and on my first day in Tucson, I’d decided to do some sneaker research (this practice inevitably leads to sneaker shopping!). Hokas had been highly recommended by a friend, but I’d always thought they looked bulky; they’re not! Back in Maine, thinking I needed more cushion, I’d tried on the new Adidas Ultra Boost, but the price tag of $180 was a turn off, not to mention the 10.6 oz. weight. The Saucony Triumph ISO (9.0 oz.) is one of my favorites–my current shoe–but I like mixing it up a bit. At Fleet Feet in Tucson, I tried out the Hoka Cliftons and knew they were perfect the second I put them on. They might look bulky but they weigh 6.6 oz with no sacrifice in cushion. At $130, the Hokas aren’t inexpensive, but out of the box they felt great for 11 miles. I’m a fan. 

A new friend in my running posse, fresh sneakers, and 80° desert temps after a long Maine winter…what a great day!

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Critical Engagement Playground

EfrainAlmeida

Viewing Efrain Almeida at CRG

I was due to arrive at a month-long residency at the Vermont Studio Center in late October, and I needed to complete the last leg of the Sebago Lake to Casco Bay run before my departure from Maine. My plan was to arrive at the residency with a complete line (the line created by running from Sebago Lake to Casco Bay with a gps watch). Time was running short, but the week before my departure, I decided to drive to New York to catch some exhibits and pick up my son, Link, who’d been on a bike trek from Washington D.C.

It turned out to be one of those New York trips where everything clicks. First, we caught the Jeff Koons’ show at the Whitney (the final weekend of the show and of the museum’s Madison Avenue location). Viewing the span of Koons’ work deepened my understanding of the artist, and though many of the individual objects still strike me as thin, I left the show thinking of the entire exhibit as a kind of critical engagement playground. There were some particularly enjoyable moments–the early basketball work, the tinted mirrors, and the huge pile of Play-Doh, among others–but viewing Koons’ work in a packed museum was what gave it life. Some viewers strutted around, decked out and oozing swagger; others nervously glanced from gallery to gallery, not sure where to let their eyes settle. Viewing Koons in public catches the viewer in a paradox of self conscious seduction, as if one doesn’t want to be seen enjoying the scale and glitter of banal objects too much. This feeling is amplified with the pornographic images. Viewers tended to cluster around the museum labels, not wanting to be seen enjoying, disliking, or being shocked by the posed intimacy between Koons and his ex-wife, Italian porn star and politician Cicciolina (Ilona Staller). Koons’ direct gaze amplifies the feeling of being seen watching, or being seen while avoiding looking too closely. That tension seemed an key component of the show.

Koons_MadeinChelsea was a pleasure this time around as well, with a surprise discovery of Brazilian artist, Efrain Almeida’s work, at CRG (image above). We were also able to catch Robert Gober’s retrospective, The Heart is Not a Metaphor, at MoMA. Gober was a wonderful counterpoint to Koons. With Gober, low-value materials were jam-packed with narrative and social critique. He had transformed wax, wallpaper, newspaper, suitcases, bathtubs, sinks, and even holes jackhammered into MoMA’s granite floors, leaving layers of meaning for the viewer to unpack. Gober’s Untitled (Candle), of 1991, would make for an interesting comparison with Koons.

I was inspired. Link and I had jam-packed two days with feasting, family and friends, and art; now it was time to load up the bike, head back to Maine, and get back to work.

A few days later, after settling in at home,  I set out on a cold and rainy afternoon to complete the final Presumpscot River run. Link agreed to come along so that I could make it a point-to-point rather than an out and back. I’d noted from a map that I might come across a closed section of the rail trail, but from a Google Maps satellite view, it looked like I’d be able to make my way through. I was optimistic.

I set out on an industrial stretch of trail; it wasn’t particularly lovely, but it looked passable.  IndustryGood Start 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was just settling into a groove when I came upon a fence–essentially a metal box over a bridge, which Blockedmade it impossible to cross over the road to the trail on the other side. The sign was menacing, andSignage after a few minutes of deliberation, I decided not to scramble down to the road and up the other side; I’d reroute by the road.

I began to make my way down a hill in the direction of the river. After a few strides, I ran into another sign, even more menacing.

Menacing Signage I crossed back over the trail and made my way through some wet, swampy grass to the road. At that point, I was drenched and cold. I had 5 miles to go, if everything went smoothly. I ran up over a ridge by Windham’s Maine Correctional Center, wondering if the prison explained the menacing signs. Over the hill, at the intersection with River Road, I glimpsed a long stretch of horse barn, one of the few scenic views of the run. With no sign of the Presumpscot, I took off down River Road, as cars 10.FarmViewraced by over wet pavement. I spent the next 5 miles frequently jumping off the small shoulder as cars and trucks Long Wet Roadbarreled by, apparently oblivious to my presence.

After a long 5+ miles, I reached Westbrook and realized I must have run by the entrance to the Community Center. I called Link, did a 180, and began to retrace my steps. I was wiped out, and when Link showed up a few minutes later, I gratefully climbed in the warm car where dry clothes were waiting for me.

I’d finished the Presumpscot River line–a significant part of my first watershed run. In Vermont, I’d be able to fill in the gaps in my growing installation of drawings and paintings.

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Presence and Absence

 

4.tracks3My next watershed run covered a 4.5 mile stretch were the Sebago to Sea trail turns away from the lake and begins to meander along the Presumpscot River toward Casco Bay. I ran an out and back–a total of 9 miles on a paved trail that runs alongside an old rail bed.

Tracks 2

Tracks 3

I get a bit jittery about hunters when I’m running in the fall, and though this  stretch of trail abuts farmhouses and soccer fields, I did hear a few shots in the distance–target practice, I assume, since it’s still archery season in Maine. At one point, I realized that although I had on a fave highlighter yellow Brooks running vest, I was also wearing a white baseball cap. Thinking my bobbing cap could be mistaken for the butt of a white tailed deer, I stuffed it in my pocket and let the rain soak my head.

TracksThe most surprising moment of the run came with two boys careening around a corner on their bikes, fishing poles balanced Tracks 4straight out over handlebars like jousting lances. I jumped to the side to avoid being pierced, and gave them a little wave. I’d only seen the river at the start of the trail, but I knew the Presumpscot was coursing through the woods nearby, and the boys were a sign that it must be close.

Throughout the running/drawing watershed project, I’ve come to realize that both the presence and absence of water capture my imagination–in terms of a personal, tactile experience of the land (and the related process of collecting images and ideas about water/landscape as an artistic subject) and in considering the human relationship to water on a larger scale. 

10.tracks8_rain Each run has deepened my understanding of how we relate–and often fail to relate–to the water around us. I’m increasingly conscious of where water comes from (before the faucet) and where it goes (after the drain).  In this case, as I ran over wet pavement, I envisioned 7.tracks6water running off the paved trail into the woods, seeping down into the soil, running into the Presumpscot River and down to Casco Bay. Having learned recently about green infrastructure, I find myself distrustful of anything paved. I scan parking lots for bio-retention plant beds and porous pavement, Stopknowing that our habit of skimming the land with buildings and tar stops the natural process by which soil cleans and cools the water. Disrupting this natural step, by diverting water directly to pipes, is dangerous and expensive, leaving more polluted water for our waterworks companies to treat and often overwhelming the systems that exist in most water treatment facilities.

When I return to the studio after each run, these facts fade to context and the echoes of the experience in my body move to the foreground. For me, the experience of running is a process of reduction, a process through which being present in the moment supersedes other more cluttered ways of being. In the drawings that are emerging from the watershed runs, the marks reflect the feeling of being Lucinda, just another animal running through the landscape.

Watershed2

 

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The Lake

rootFor the fourth leg of my Casco Bay watershed run, I decided to delay exploring the middle of the Sebago to Sea trail and instead to complete an out and back on sections 1 and 2. Driving up to the lake, I spotted a parking lot on Rt. 237 with the now familiar Sebago to Sea trail kiosk. The lot planted me in between sections 1 and 2 so I’d be able to run out and back on each, with a water stop in between. I hit the trail, and found myself on what I thought was a smooth, easy running surface.  Ignoring my footing, I got about 10 strides in when my left toe caught a camouflaged root and I ditched it into the trail, cutting my right hand and jamming my right elbow hard into the dirt. Not willing to abandon the run, I wiped off the blood, cradled my elbow for a minute, then took off slowly down leg 2, away from the lake.

Other than the pesky root and one busy road crossing, the trails were great for 2.signage1running. There’s a network of side paths, but all were marked with clear signage. I quickly reached the end of the second section of the S2S network (an easy 1.2 miles), turned around, and ran back to the car. My arm was aching from the fall, but I was eager to to see the lake, so I  took off in the opposite direction on section 1.  Route 35 had some fast moving cars, but after crossing with care, Iroads S2S 1 entered the woods and took off down a trail blanketed with soft pine. This trail led to Pond Road, which runs alongside the lake to a final section of trail.

No TrespassingAs I neared the lake, I began to see fences with signs designed to keep people out. This seemed contradictory given that the lake functions as both a water supply and a recreation destination. According to the  history mapped out on the Portland Water District website, there’s long been tricky balance between these two functions of the lake, with cottages being removed as early as 1909 and boating and swimming rules being adjusted over the subsequent century. The PWD website points out that human activity is the greatest danger to the lake, from swimming near the water intake to using chemical treatments on lawns. Lawn chemicals can leach down into groundwater and enter lakes in the natural run off that occurs with rain. These pesticides and fertilizers are irrefutably dangerous to humans, animals, insects, and the environment, and though they create a dead ecosystem, the association of fluffy green grass with the idea of a well-maintained house has been slow to change. Sebago Lake is large enough that it remains relatively healthy in spite of these challenges. The PWD website points out that, “Sebago Lake is the deepest lake in New England and contains almost a trillion gallons of water.  This doesn’t mean it’s invincible, but it takes more effort to pollute that much water.” Human activity is taking a toll, but it’s happening slowly. There have long been debates about whether motorized boating should be allowed on the southern end of Sebago (currently, it’s only prohibited 3,000 feet from the water intakes), but the legislature hasn’t chosen to prohibit them at this point. As Portland’s primary water source, Sebago is a hard working lake, serving a quarter of a million people, essentially 25% of the Maine population. The watershed project has given me the opportunity to slow down time–to appreciate the lake, the river that flows from it, and to examine the ways that these natural resources intersect with human industry, domestic life, and recreation. 

After months of exploring the Presumpscot River, which leads from the lake to Casco Bay, I was eager to reach the lake itself. As I emerged from the woods, completing the final 2.8 mile stretch of trail (S2S, section 1), I emerged on a sandy beach, smiling at the grand blue expanse and the outline of New Hampshire’s White Mountains in the distance.

Sebago Lake

I explored the beach for a few minutes, splashed some water on my face, and retraced my steps to the car. I’d run 8 miles and my elbow and hand were pretty sore. I was ready for a few days of rest before taking on the final mid-section of the Presumpscot and then the circumference of the lake itself.

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Trail Stewards

fall reflections

The third leg of my Casco Bay watershed run was too long to do an out and back, so I  locked up my bike at the finish–the Westbrook Community Center–and drove back down to the trailhead at the Waste Management Plant on Forest Avenue. waste managementThis process actually gave me a better lay of the land, which was especially useful on the cycle back to the car when I was finished. When I had parked the car and slipped on my Mizuno Wave Riders, I promptly started running in the wrong direction. startIt took me a few minutes to figure out that I had to cross the bridge with traffic, turn the corner, then start the trail on the opposite side of the river. When I did find the proper trail head,  crew lumber I quickly came upon a crew of Portland Trails staff, hard at work on the trailbridges. I stopped to say hi, and was pleased to meet Daniel, the Trail Steward. This chance meeting gave me the opportunity to express my appreciation for their work and to share a bit about my project. After a few minutes of chatting, I trotted down the trail of hard packed dirt and worn grass, which eventually led down to the opaque green water, now reflecting impressionist dabs of orange and yellow. I was reminded that in order to finish the entire trail before winter, including the run around Sebago, I’d have to step up my pace!

pathsAfter a stretch of river-side running, the trail stopped abruptly at private land. trail seekingAfter poking around for a few minutes, I found that the trail re-entered the woods just up the power line clearcut. Following a stretch of trail alongside a tall wire fence I came out on the road that would lead me the remaining miles back to the community center and my bike. finish_bikeI cycled back to the start, feeling the excitement of the growing journey, eager to get back to the drawings-in-progress in my studio.backtotheroad_tothebike

The watershed drawings are now well underway–so far consisting of twelve 23″ x 23″ graphite and watercolor works on paper. As I run each new stretch of the watershed, the drawing installation expands and new visual and conceptual connections emerge. I’ll conclude this blog with one panel of the work-in-progress, with more to follow soon!

Watershed: Leg 2 (work-in-progress)

Watershed: Leg 2 (work-in-progress)

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Cosmic Cellar

graffiti

Leg 2 of the Casco Bay watershed project picked up where leg 1 left off, under a bridge on the Sebago to Sea trail as I continued my run up the Presumpscot river toward Sebago Lake.

trail 1

I cruised under the bridge and headed into the woods along a dirt path, distracted by the sound of rushing cars. The hilly trail was well worn from mountain bikes, and, enjoying the ups and downs, I was just beginning to lose myself in the run when I heard the unique pop of a golf club making contact with a ball. Over the next rise, I emerged alongside the Riverside Golf course, which eventually led out onto the street. golf courseAfter finding my way along the busy road to the next   trail entrance, I ran a fairly desolate path alongside a cyclone fence. to the roadAs I re-entered the dim woods, reconnecting with the river, I padded by a young couple kissing on the river’s edge.

cyclone fence

 

 

 

 

 

I meandered alongside the milky green water until I entered the

trolleyparkhistorical trolley park, with signs indicating a waterside gathering place, active from 1896 to 1920.

As with my first watershed run, described in Water Pathways, the Sebago to Sea trails lead me through wooded, suburban, and industrial zones. I’m always alert when running alone, but there are particular sites that put me on edge. Sometimes I startle when snakes, squirrels, woodpeckers, and mourning doves slither, dart, tap, and rustle in the bushes around me, but it’s the places on the edge–the transitional areas between public and wild space–that put me on  alert.

Philosopher Gaston Bachelard, in his classic book, Poetics of Space, writes about the phenomenology of place, examining shells, nests, drawers, garrets, and cellars, pondering the affect of these spaces on the human imagination. I would add the underworld of bridges to Bachelard’s list, as secret places that cause a shiver in the corporeal imagination. Referencing L’Antiquaire, by Henri Bosco, Bachelard describes a “cosmic cellar” in which a character, in a dream, discovers “an immense body of water,” which causes him to shiver (23). The author describes the shiver as not human fear but “cosmic fear” that echoes the “great legend of man cast back into primitive situations” (23). Bachelard goes on to describe how this process leads to a sense of connection– dream/imagination affecting reality. Speaking of the body of water discovered in the cellar, in a dream, he writes:

From the cavern carved in the rock to the underground, from the underground to stagnant water, we have moved from a constructed to a dreamed world; we have left fiction for poetry. But reality and dream now form a whole. The house, the cellar, the deep earth, achieve totality through depth. The house has become a natural being whose fate is bound to that of mountains and of the waters that plough the land. The enormous stone plant it has become would not flourish if it did not have subterranean water at its base. And so our dreams attain boundless proportions. (23-24)

There is a didactic purpose to my watershed project: to increase my own awareness of where water is sourced (and share my discoveries) and to make visible what is concealed about our relationship with the water that sustains us. At the same time, my motivation is poetic; I’m collecting artistic source material through a process of experiencing place. In that vein, Bachelard offers me philosophical bedrock, illuminating the relationship between what is seen, felt, and imagined, and thereby helping me to read my experience of running the edges and corners of the natural world.

underthebridge

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Jessie James’ Magic Garden

Swiss Chard

There are many tales to tell about my experience of Grand Manan this summer. Garden 1 The island has weathered some tough losses, which I’ll share about in future posts. Today I want to tell you about the garden of Jessie James and Anne Mitchell.

Garden 3I’m on the island for a local event celebrating the release of my mother, Alison Hawthorne Deming’s latest book, Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit. The weather is gorgeous and we

decided to get out and enjoy the day, to pass the time before the evening’s festivities. On our way to the Anchorage for a beach walk, we stopped by an island “farm stand” to pick up some swiss chard. The so-called farm stand turned out to be one of the most magical gardens I’ve ever seen! Certain places are so lovely that they permeate one’s dreams instantly, and this garden went straight to my heart. I’ll let the images say the rest.

garden 3garden 8

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