the copse of trees dead & dying

If nothing else, I like to think of myself as a runner.

I’ve been doing it since I was 12, 13, I think, running. And I’ve never quite seriously stopped. Laps in the yard, laps around the block, laps on the track, done terribly. (Dad: How’d you do, Sarah? Sarah: I found a quarter! *beams*)

I forget if I ran much at 15. When I learned how to drive, I played tag, committed crimes, ran fast. By college I was running again, in an absent way—the same absent manner by which I dealt with all of college, with great success, and sleekness.

After college, I would really run. I would take the hills, go far afield, get lost, be by myself, alone. I would find out what it means to meditate. Discover great podcasts. Realize things about myself, solve out puzzles, save the world for later. I would run to not be drunk instead, to be sober for a second, for at least some stretch of my day. To be, for a little while, better than I was before, or felt before. My heart racing for a reason, to be stronger, to be better. Yes, I was a runner then.

The other day, after a long period of languishing—days at a stretch in the mire, I’m saying—I went for a long run, those being the kind of runs that go for more than, oh, four miles. For me, these are the slow runs, and for me, they are the best runs. And I should say now that I’m not a particularly good runner, in the sense that if I were really practicing, chasing PRs and logging my miles, I would be much, much better at running than I am now. I’ve more plateaued at “decent”; improvements, to me, are incidental, so while I may be on a given day slightly better than the average bear at this jogging-around shit, I am by no means as good as one might think I should be, after so much time and cash invested.

Ain’t even mad, though. Because running, to me, has always been, first, a way of mental escape. This is its grand value. No amount of om-ing in my life so far could have ever done as much to clear my mind from the madness and the sadness as the act of running does, has done for me, by force. Vague worries disappear at the advance of the immediate. I mean, let’s be real—the pain, the crisis of I need to spray hot fire out of my asshole right FRIKKIN now, under this bridge, patio bar be god-damned shit-fucked tends to, no-question, outlap and make trivial the tired pains of existential horseshit, all height of vagary, like O how Oft I Quake Most Fretfully at yon mere Rhythms of thy Wickid, Wild World. Which is to say, some people have real problems; running helps to keep that in perspective.

Anyway. That, in rough approximate, is why I like to run. In the parlance of an Achewood strip—I got depression.

Down the west bank of the Mighty Arkansas, there is a point where it becomes hard to ignore a sense of deadness, a certain lifelessness, at times, in the foliage surrounding you. For a long stretch beside the PSO Tulsa Power Station, house of aesthetic notoriety, trees grow crookedly in muddy waters beneath smokestacks looming, across from engines all abuzz. The east side of the trail is fenced off, a steep drop, choked with trees, a lengthy copse of them in all the stages of decay, gross and grotesque, dead and dying, their sickly limbs dreading into lifeless knots. Between their barren, webwormed eaves the river flows, sometimes, like now, in early autumn, after rain. In the summers, the Arkansas is a trench of mud, speckled with pelicans, expectant. Yes, the river changes, once mighty, then absent, but here is an eerie constant—the trees on the coast in the miasma, growing up poisoned, thin shafts jagged and abrupt like broken spears. The proximity to the power plant, that fetid taste in the air, so noxious; it makes one wonder—but truths like these, we know, are far too high above our pay grades to warrant much excess concern on our part.

So yeah, I take meds. Before that, I drank, hard. And I did a christload of drugs. I was insane, and I embraced insane. This is not a brag. I could detail all the exploits, make them into funny stories—usually, on some level, they were—but the truth is, as a whole look, it was ugly. Anything to distract, man. I ran, too, then—but in those days, when I stopped running, the crazy came back right away.

I’m at least a year or two removed from that stretch of my life now, but let’s be straight—I still have the crazy. I try to keep it to myself these days, instead of airing it out on common grounds, where they’re sick of my ass, like I used to. There are days so crushing it’s hard to do anything but numb myself, any way I’m able to, with even running too much to ponder. There are days I spend alone that are designed to not remember. Bad days, sometimes. Bad times.

And then the morning always comes, its slate blank.

The weather is nice.

Or maybe it’s not—maybe it looks like a challenge out there…

Maybe something to conquer out there—something to find out, grapple with, be better than, and beat.

Here I am with all my problems, when out there, it’s the world… and in the good times, I’ll say to myself—

Go run. Feel better. See beauty. Feel real.

And then I do.

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