The only tough part of today's run was deciding to do it. I sat at the dining room table debating for ten minutes. Then, in a move that always works, I stood up with the sole intention of changing into running clothes. Back downstairs in shorts and shirt with my GPS watch around my wrist, my wife said, "you're going for a run." I guess I am.
Out the door waited the Catskills. I walked through puddles in the driveway waiting for the watch to catch a satellite. It did just before Spring Glen Road and I started a trot toward the post office. I haven't run much of late and am fifteen pounds over normal weight which is fifteen pounds above healthy. It was just shy of fifty degrees and though I was in shorts and barefoot in Luna Sandals, I knew the long-sleeve wool, despite it's wondrous wicking, would be too warm. I figured I'd survive.
Spring Glen Road turns into Mountaindale Road as it turns up the mountain. My mother-in-law and the people in town call it a mountain. It seems more a hill, but a rose by any other name would still be a steady uphill climb. I love the long, steady climb which bends and winds following Sandburg Creek which flows first on the right, then the left of the road. The thaw and high temperature had the creek rushing down the mountain, filling its banks. Nothing is so soothing as running near moving water. The metaphor carries me to a good place, as does climbing a long hill.
Mountaindale Road is only lightly traveled in the busy times. Eleven on a Tuesday morning I met three cars in two miles, each of which I waved to. No one waved back. Forests grow on either side of the road with the creek flowing through. The houses are either well-kept cottages or run-down shacks. Garages tilt ten degrees from plumb, roofs bow inward, and driveways are mostly dirt, some lined with carefully constructed rock walls. The nicest houses are set back and I work to figure out how one gets to them as I pass.
The road climbs up past the intersection with Red Hill Road. There is a pond on my right with a rickety bench at which I imagine sitting. On my left is a bridge that carryies Red Hill Road over Sandburg Creek. I turn, cross the bridge, and follow the undulating cracked pavement across the mountainside usually singing U2's "Red Hill Mining Town." I wonder how this road hasn't slid down the embankment, through the trees, into Sandburg Creek. That it's supposed to be two lanes is laughable in summer, frightening with snow banked on either side.
The whole run I've felt happily alone and my mind has largely gone blank. I'm not projecting anything onto the run so much as soaking all of it in. Here on Red Hill Road, the solitude really kicks in. I look into the depths of forest, following small rivulets back to the creek, finding abandoned things parked or left between trees that have grown up around them. I'm not thinking about pace or distance or anything. On this run, distance was set when the road was first paved. If I go on, it's this long; if I turn around, it's that long. As for pace, there's no hurry nor any need to slow down. I'm moving as I feel. The solitary run's joy is in this moment as I move up and down the undulations of Red Hill Road moving from one side of the road to the other so as not to surprise or be surprised by oncoming traffic. And my mind is completely at ease, both attentive and quietly still.
Looking down to my left I see Mountain Dale Road and hear Sandburg Creek. Where Red Hill Road is blank asphalt, cracked and crumbling at the edges, Mountaindale Road is properly lined and official. I'm far above it without having felt that I've climbed so high. Not trying to get anywhere, I've risen to a fine height. I pass houses on my right. No house could hang from the left. Even the trees give up and slide down with the water and leaves.
I come to another T-intersection. Red Hill Road goes on toward Phillipsport where the road changes to a true one-lane going through a tunnel under the railroad then down to a church facing the wrong way to the road as old churches should. I've run that way before and love it, but although my legs feel good, I know that it's unwise to go too far. I take the left onto Meyerson Road and down, down, down the mountain more steeply than I climbed. Fields on the left look as though something grows there in season but they are puddle flooded and fallow now. A car backed in behind a locked gate has a price on the windshield, but how could anyone see it while driving by?
Farther down are two small houses. The one on the right, a modular, has a picket fence for no good reason. I've never seen signs of life in it no matter the season, but it's too well kept to be abandoned. There's a trampoline in the yard. I imagine playing on it while no one is looking but see myself breaking my ankle or the trampoline, either of which would feel like a disaster.
It's the house across the street I prefer. A single garage door with a stairwell beside it leading up to the house on the second story. The entire place is just wider than the garage and only goes back two car lengths. A studio apartment on the side of a mountain instead of in the City. I want to live there, write there, and run up and down this mountain from there. I pass on, wondering what it's like inside and who owns it. Would they let me live there? Could I quit my job and move? Of course not. I run on toward my family.
A creek runs down the drainage culvert along the left of Meyerson Road. I run on the wrong side of the road to be with it. I imagine drinking from that cold, clear mountain water. Then I imagine Stuart Little riding a tiny kayak as I run alongside. The culvert enters a corrugated pipe and disappears underground. Damn it, I could have follow that water all day. Then it appears on the other side of the road. I rush over and follow it for a couple hundred yards until it drifts away from the road into the forest. Losing it this way is like letting a wild thing go free, and I run on, smiling.
Just before the left turn onto Phillipsport Road are the remains of the Homowack, an old Catskills resort closed over a decade ago. The golf course off Meyerson went wild within a year and is now grown completely over. The Homowack buildings are in full ruin having been destroyed first by a group of Hassidic who lived there a year and then by kids spray painting walls and shattering giant dining hall windows. I run past, remembering a place I never really knew.
I'm down from the mountain and the flat but twisting Phillipsport Road is empty for the the partial mile to home. I feel good. My legs have again proven strong no matter how long I let them go and even with the extra weight I carry. My mind is clear as the waters I've followed. To my right now is Homowack Kill, a creek leading to my mother-in-law's and in which my children still play in warm weather. I'm moving faster, my feet beating a good rhythm. I breathe easy and feel great knowing I've made nothing but good choices today. My destination appears just ahead.
Back at the driveway, I stop the watch and see my daughters doing a photo shoot at the far edge of the yard. I walk toward them, hands on my hips, heart rate slowing, sweat running down from beneath my hat. My youngest sees me and throws her hand in the air waving. I'm tempted to run to them, but prefer to go slow and savor this return to family, the last moments of perfect solitude, the Catskills mountains rising above and the running waters clear and cold.