I’m on Grand Manan this week, isolating myself from the chaos of house construction at home and holding off the distractions of daily tasks so that I can finish reading thesis papers and work on a large-scale drawing that’s been slow to evolve. I’m also taking time to get out and run every day.
I’ve explored a catalogue of favorite runs: from the cottage in Castalia to the Whistle and back, from the cottage to Swallow Tail light and back, from the cottage to Castalia marsh and back, the hilly loop beginning with the coastal Anchorage boardwalk, and finally, yesterday, the trail run from Southwest Head Light to Hay Point and back–extending the run for the first time to Bradford Cove.
The terrain on the Hay Point run varies dramatically, from dirt roads to steep, rocky hills, to barely perceptible trails cramped by scrappy pines.
On this trip, I was out for an hour and 40 minutes. It was a slow run due to abundant scenic vistas, but also due to wet bogs, pond-sized puddles, mud, roots, upended trees, and threatening spears of dead pine.
After an hour or so of running, I entered that zone where my body seems more permeable and aware. This often happens on a long run. Everything becomes more sensory. My skin feels the air in a different way, and smells are intense–in this case, the blasts of warm pine and ocean salt. Sometimes when I’m running in the woods, I get a whiff of animal (something like oily fur) or human (traces of smoke and food). These faint traces startle me, not out of fear, but out of the surprise of smelling them at all. It’s a hyper-awareness that only happens when I’m running. I’m not suggesting a mystical union with the animal world, though the idea of becoming animal resonates (with a nod to Deleuze and Guattari). In that permeable state of motion, I experience a hint of freedom, a wonderful stripping away of identity, a departure from normal thinking patterns.
I’m also reading H is for Hawk, a memoir by Helen Macdonald, which explores the author’s experience of personal loss as it intersects with her work in falconry. Throughout the book, she trains Mabel, a young goshawk, and she describes periods of being in a semi-feral state of identification with her hawk and her own wildness, and then her re-emergence into community and into her life in the academic world. Macdonald does a brilliant job of describing those moments of splintering and reassembling identity and the mysterious longings that accompany both.
Movement has always felt right to me, as has a complex framing of identity—motion rather than stasis feels accurate in some inner register, if not always direct and easy to get my head (and life) around. In the meantime, running seems to be a reliable way to get at something that feels true…