Sunday Morning, Outside

Reading about how to be healthy, a consistent theme is to get outside. The mind is healthier out in the world, balance comes easier among trees than inside four walls, and we make better choices breathing fresh air. That's part of why I went for a run though I wasn't feeling like it. I put on the tights, shorts, socks, sandals, wool shirt, vest, hat, and gloves (it's a whole rigamarole, running in Syracuse's January) and went outside. Intending a short run I fell into a rhythm and went just over five. Being outside felt lovely, but there is more to being truly outside than just leaving the house for a run.

While running, I got thinking how much of my writing is about the inside of my head. I spend a lot of time and ink exploring the narrow confines of my thinking. Shouldn't I get outside my skull? I wondered.

My friend photographs the natural world without any sign of man's intrusion. The best thing about his work is that he withholds what so many of us cling to. There are no boathouses or docks on the river in his photographs, no church steeples rising through the bare trees, no runners through the forest. Instead there is the natural world captured as if we don't exist at all. I know Chris is behind the tripod but he's not the subject.

More often than not I'm the subject of my writing. Thoreau said — "I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.” — but he was also one of the greatest observers of the outside world. He wrote of his experience, but no one so carefully saw, heard, smelled, touched, and tasted the world as did Thoreau. And he wrote those things down.

This morning's temperature hovered around freezing. The occasional light flurry of giant snowflakes fell and melted immediately. The sky was a special Syracuse grey that is both normal and oppressive. The streets were slick and puddles stretched from the curb to the middle of Meadowbrook Drive. There was no accumulated snow left and hasn't been for weeks. Something about the jet stream. My feet made slight slapping noises on the wet pavement and squished whenever I ran on the grass.

The brook moved fast but was not full. Used to be that it overflowed regularly but the city opened things up. There hasn't been a flood in a decade. Today it was all cliche, babbling and whispering. Out by the high school I ran close enough to watch and really listen. No ducks or muskrats today and not too much garbage. Just water that would be frozen were it not moving too fast to become still.

In the cemetery I passed two above-ground crypts and wondered why we resist returning to dust. It makes sense while we're living, but once we're dead? I shrugged both failing to understand the logic but knowing the feeling of wanting to remain no matter how grey the sky seems.

Down the hill back near the high school a bird circled without moving its wings. "Something on the thermals yanked his chain." It seemed like a hawk. A friend I teach with could tell me all about it and I almost wished he was there, but no, I was outside to be alone.

Three girls ran in the other direction back on Meadowbrook. Two were out front together while the third was well behind. They were across a lane of traffic, the brook, and another lane of traffic and my eyes are no longer so good that I could make out their expressions, but I pasted one on that girl at the back and it looked like me. Did she wish she was running by herself instead of chasing something she might not want? A car drove by and splashed a puddle on me.

On our street the house of a friend had a SOLD sign in the yard. She's moving out. I don't know when or where she's going. I have no idea who bought the house. Her table and chairs remained near the front stoop. Four bags of garbage waited at the road for pickup two days away.

The grey sky let go a few more snow flakes, a nod toward winter, a postcard, or a shaken globe. The hole in our driveway was filled with brown water and a few crystals. The garage door paint was peeling and cracked. I tapped in the code, waited for the door to open, and went inside where it was warm. I stood inside the dark basement, still breathing hard, wondering where it is I'm supposed to be going.