Monthly Archives: January 2012

Maybe I should slow down?

It seems like a funny thing for a self-described “slow happy runner” to say… but maybe I should take my own advice and slow down a bit? I’m talking primarily about running here, but of course there are probably all sorts of metaphorical parallels to the whole of my life — I’ll let you point them out to me in your comments.

What seems to be happening for me right now as a runner is that I’ll have one or two really great days, when I go out there and run faster or further than I intend, effortlessly and joyfully, followed by a run (or two) that goes really badly or at least not as planned. Bear in mind that I normally only run about three times a week, so it’s not that I’m out there pushing hard every day. My knees are gradually feeling better and stronger overall. I actually feel like I’m recovering sooner after each run, while at the same time I continue to discover that I can run at speeds that I had never thought possible. Yet I keep having these crashes — so I wonder if I’m starting to push myself to a point of diminishing returns, and maybe I should just go back to being slow and happy again.

Yet the times when I feel the most joy while running are precisely those times when I’m pushing and my body is responding — so it’s hard to resist the temptation to keep going out there and doing it. Or perhaps overdoing it.

As I’d previously reported, I ran this past Monday (4.4 fast joyous miles to make up for having been too sick to run last Sunday), followed by 3.25 miles of fatigued slog on Wednesday. So I vowed to slow down on Friday, but instead ran 4.01 really fast joyous miles, another of those magical runs when I forgot to look at my watch and was surprised to see how far I’d gone, and how fast.

Last night I went to bed early (around 10:00 PM rather than my usual near-midnight) eagerly anticipating this morning’s planned a 10-mile run, which would be my last long run before the half marathon in two weeks. Sure enough, I awoke promptly at 1:00 AM (instead of the usual 3:00 AM). So I figured, fine, I’ll go back to sleep. My middle of the night awakenings usually have one of two possible outcomes: I’ll go back to sleep immediately or I’ll be awake for 60 to 90 minutes. Last night (or I should say this morning) it was after 4:00 AM before I finally went back to sleep. I lay there for three hours trying to figure out the sequence of events I’ll have to complete to get myself and my three cats moved out of this condo — really moved out this time, which means finding new owners for all the furniture and donating, discarding, or shipping home all the other stuff. I’d met with a realtor yesterday afternoon, so this topic was floating around in my head when I went to bed, lurking there waiting to strike when I awoke.

My alarm went off at 5:45 and I did not leap out of bed in joyous anticipation of running 10 miles. I didn’t leave the house until 8:15, and it was already getting warm. I had planned to run at around an 11:45 pace — 45+ seconds per mile slower than my recent short runs — but things were working well at the beginning and I was having trouble slowing down and settling in. By 4 miles I wasn’t having much fun. I decided to head back toward my condo for a quick break and evaluation of the situation. I was carrying water but did not feel thirsty. But I had a brief dizzy spell while waiting for the “walk” signal, and I knew I was done for the day. My planned 10-mile cruise turned into a too-quick 5.28 miles (11:23 pace) that left me feeling weak and angry with myself for screwing up.

I don’t know what went wrong (other than losing all that sleep). I’d eaten typical things both last night and this morning. It was not all that warm, only about 60 degrees when I finished, although if I’d tried to keep going for another hour it would have gotten very warm.

After I got home I guzzled orange juice and quickly got over the dizziness, but I had no desire to go out there again. I ate, I napped for about an hour, and then I went swimming (my usual leisurely dog-paddle). I went grocery shopping this afternoon. It was a normal Sunday. I have no unusual pain tonight. I simply didn’t have it in me to run 10 miles this morning.

I’m now officially in “taper mode” — so while I’ll continue running probably twice a week over the next two weeks, I’ll keep them short (under 5 miles) and I’ll work on being SLOW. I need to remember how to have fun while running even though I’m not out there every time setting new personal records.

Work in process

Perhaps I should mention that I have not dropped off the face of the earth. I’ve simply gone into another one of my thought-funks, in which a lot of things are brewing but it’s difficult (or premature) to crystallize them into the pseudo-solid field of Zeros and Ones.

I am angry. I am disillusioned, in the literal sense of having my sense of reality ripped open and exposed before my eyes. I have lifted the veil, looked behind the curtain… and there really is nothing back there. This isn’t that sense of “walking off the cliff” into unexpected depths of grief that I’ve written about here many times. This really isn’t about grieving for Kurt at all. This is more a sense that many of the fundamental assumptions I have held about the way the world works have simply exploded.

We live in a world in which the institutions we have created do not do well by the people who created them and who have devoted their lives to maintaining, sustaining, and striving to improve them.

For many years I have lived, or professed to live, by this well-known Gandhi quote: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” I devoted my professional life to trying to awaken others to the power of personal transformation. I honestly thought that if I could reach enough individuals with this message, then I could help make a genuine difference in the world.

I’m now seeing that the world (or at least the portion of the world in which I have lived my life) is not going to change, is not interested in changing, and would prefer to see the notion of “personal transformation” limited to “becoming more effective/productive within the constraints of the existing system.”

If I really, personally, want to see change in the world — MY world — I’m going to have to really, personally, start with myself. I have to reevaluate my relationships to the “stuff” that I love, the things that I believe to be true, the literal and metaphorical security systems and barriers against the world that I have personally erected. I have to dare to be free, and I have to take personal responsibility for what it means to be free.

So now I’m in the process of figuring out what all that might mean. I suppose I overthink things, but that is who I am and expect I always will be, no matter how many veils I end up piercing along the way.

As I figure things out (or not) I may be absent from this blog for a while.

Or I may have another great run and want to tell you all about it.

I did 4.4 joyful miles Monday morning, and 3.25 not-so-joyful miles this morning. I was having trouble being in the moment and running when all around me the known world was collapsing, and I’d only had 4 hours of sleep last night. If it had been a race I would have risen to the occasion, but this morning it was just a slog. So I’ll try again on Friday — and I do always look forward to my Friday runs as they herald the coming of the weekend.

A friend of a friend died of lung cancer this morning. My wounds are still too fresh; this news ripped my heart open again. This was not the source of my current anger and disillusionment; rather, those experiences left me wide open to the pain. If you smoke, please stop. If you truly love someone who is a smoker, please nag them to stop. Life is too short and precious to waste in such a stupid, senseless way. All we have are moments, and I want all of us to live as many moments as possible.

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan

I’m learning to take my “training plans” with a grain of salt and consider them approximate goals, because life does get in the way once or twice or more during the course of a 3 to 4 month plan, doesn’t it?

After my great short runs last Wednesday and Friday, I was all psyched up to go out and run 9 miles or so this morning. What happened instead was that yesterday I woke up with a bit of a headache… not too bad yet but threatening to become bad. I walked to breakfast and back (about a mile total), hoping to relax and loosen up my neck and shoulders in the sunshine. It seemed to work, and I was feeling pretty good by noon or so.

Then at about 1:30 the forecasted high winds showed up with a mighty blast. Within minutes there was blowing sand along with miscellaneous flying objects all headed at my car (which, unfortunately, is not garaged here) and my west-facing floor to ceiling windows. I watched branches snap off my two patio trees and crash to the ground. Watching all that was good for an instant, severe headache. I took pain pills, went to bed, and cowered all afternoon as I heard things crashing and bouncing across the flat roof.

I really don’t like wind. I think I’d prefer the heavy snow they got back in my home town this past week to that kind of wind.

I got up in the evening with my head still pounding. I turned on the TV (an extremely rare thing) and watched the local news. Winds at the airport had gusted to 66, but there were reports all over the valley of gusts to 90. A carport had collapsed, crushing about a dozen cars. Roads were closed due to blowing sand with visibility down to 10 feet (the police directing traffic had to wear goggles). Thousands of households were without power; hundreds of trees were down. While the winds were expected to die down overnight, I was groggy from pain pills and knew there was no way I would be going running this morning.

When I woke up this morning I felt a lot better, and it was indeed calm outside. I asked myself, if this were race day, would you feel good enough to drag yourself out there and run? The best I could muster was “maybe.” But today, with the race still three weeks away, I didn’t have it in me to go out and run merely to log the miles.

So I got up around 10:00, drank lots of coffee, and ate a light breakfast. Then I dragged a large branch (maybe 1.5″ diameter at the break point) out of the patio on the downwind side of the condo (I have no idea where it flew in from and how it landed there so neatly) and added it to a pile of other debris. I ventured out to inspect my car, which was very dirty but seemed basically intact. My head was feeling 90% better but I still had the residual neck and shoulder pain so I figured walking might help as it had done yesterday.

I ended up walking 7 miles, with a break at the halfway point for lunch. Along the way I saw many fallen branches, some as thick as 8-10 inches, and a good number of completely uprooted mid-sized trees. Surprisingly, I did not see a single fallen palm tree. I’d heard that their narrow profile allows them to withstand high winds; now I’ve seen evidence to support this. What does happen, however, is that they drop all their dead fronds. In the middle of downtown they’d already done a lot of cleanup, and these fallen palm fronds were stacked several feet high at various corners. Here is an example:

I did not see any structural damage other than some torn restaurant canopies, fallen stop signs, and a bit of minor roof damage here and there. However, the park where the half marathon will start and finish looked like a tornado had come through, cutting a wide swath of fallen trees from northwest to southeast. It was too big a sight to capture with my phone, so I have no photos worth sharing.

The good news, in terms of my grand running plan, is that the 7 mile walk today did help loosen my shoulders a bit more, and I’m feeling almost human tonight. So perhaps I’ll try to squeeze in an extra run this coming week to at least partially make up for my missed long run today… or perhaps I simply won’t worry about it, and I’ll go out there on race day with no plans or goals except to have fun.

Running goals (of the big hairy audacious kind)

I suspect that most people who dare to call themselves “runners” eventually set themselves some running goals. Yes, it’s fun just being out there in nature, being fully present in the moment, getting in touch with all the weird things one’s body does while in motion, and basking in the runner’s high during and after the run. But as I’ve confessed here, I have kept a spreadsheet log of every mile since I began this odyssey in October 2008. The file itself is actually a couple of years older than that, and it’s still named “Daily Walks.xlsx”. Athough I’ve deleted all the records from those early days when even walking was a difficult but meaningful activity, I’ve kept the name as a reminder of just how far I’ve come.

I proudly call myself a Slow Happy Runner. I picked the half marathon as my race distance because I knew from the outset that I was never going to be fast; I had too much to overcome between my seriously messed-up left foot and my loose-jointed, wobbly knees and ankles. But persisting, slowly and steadily, one step at a time over 13.1 miles seemed like something I could do. When I registered for my first half marathon, I figured I was maybe capable of finishing in about three hours. I studied the prior year’s results from the hometown race I’d selected, and figured that would land me well ahead of the slowest people in my age/gender group, so it seemed like a reasonable goal.

I didn’t have a clue how to train, so I pushed way too hard too soon. Two weeks before that race I ran 13.6 miles and literally hobbled the last mile back to my car. I’d noted my time at 13.1, and I’d missed the three hour mark by a mere 30 seconds. But both knees were screaming at me, and I literally could not walk without screaming pain for more than a month after that.

When I started to run again, I started VERY slowly. I resigned myself to 14 minute miles. I allowed Kurt to buy me really ugly knee braces a week before my first race, two years ago here in Palm Springs, because I so much wanted to run the danged race but I was so scared of injuring myself again. In the weeks preceding the race, I never ran more than 5.69 miles — unlike my first attempt, I was way undertrained for this race. As a result, I hit the wall big time at 11.5 miles and dragged myself to the finish and a 3:10 time… slow, but NOT LAST! Around a 14:30 pace.

Four months later in June 2010 I finally ran my hometown North Olympic Discovery half marathon, and despite the hilly course I managed to run that one in 3:05 — down to about a 14:10 pace. Improvement! A new PR!! Okay, so I was hooked, and the 3-hour barrier seemed within reach again.

Then Kurt got sick, and I stopped thinking about running goals. As I’ve written here before, I ran to keep myself sane and give myself a time and place to cry. I registered for NODM again last June and arranged for respite care the day of the race. I figured I’d be happy just to finish, running on 3 hours sleep. So I ran a 2:55. The 3-hour barrier smashed!! Another new PR!!! And Kurt died four days later.

Sometime last summer I seriously embraced running for its restorative powers and as something that drew and grew me outwards from my grief. I figured I might run the perfectly flat Victoria BC half marathon in 2:45 or so. I ran it in 2:40 (a 12:15 pace), and I considered it some sort of never-to-be-repeated miracle.

But I was inspired. So I set myself three “lifetime probably impossible” goals:

  1. Sub-30 minute 5k — really tough because realistically that means stringing together three sub-10 minute miles, and I’d never run a single mile in less than 10:38.
  2. Sub-60 minute 10k — do the math; it’s at least twice as tough as #1
  3. Sub-2:30 half marathon — this could be doable, but would require cutting almost another minute per mile off my “amazing” Victoria time.

So Wednesday morning I suddenly and somewhat mysteriously went out and ran 4 miles in 42 minutes — a 10:30 pace (my fastest time at any distance, ever) that included a 10:15 4th mile.

This morning my ever-so-rational self-made training plan told me to run 3 miles. So I thought… I wonder what I’m capable of.

What I’m capable of turned out to be 3.1 miles (5k) in 30:43 — a 9:54 pace. So close that I’m going to have to set a new “lifetime probably impossible” 5k goal! I truly never dreamed that I’d run even one sub-10 minute mile. And I did this despite the temptation to stop and take photos of one of the most amazing sunrises I’ve ever seen in my life. Here is what it looked like just before I started, 20 minutes before sunrise:

What made it so amazing was not just the colors of the clouds, but their configuration. It was a sort of stacked series of lenticular clouds, but over the period of that half hour they developed into a large vortex shape that resembled a satellite photo of a hurricane, but as seen from below and lit spectacularly by the rising sun. It was incredible, and I never would have seen it if I hadn’t set my alarm for half an hour earlier than ususal in order to get my run in before starting my work day.

I went to work and surfed my way through the usual corporate hassles, more or less unruffled.

I think I’m starting to really love this running thing. <Said with big goofy grin on face>

My knees and the soles of my feet are sore tonight. Sunday morning I will be back to long, slow running, but just for today, it was wonderful to go out there and test the limits of what is possible.

Learning, Harmony, Wholeness

It’s been an eventful 24 hours in my life, the details of which I’m not yet ready to share. Yesterday’s post was an initial attempt to figure out what things might be worth investing my time in doing, during the so-called “second half” of my life. Wouldn’t it be great to have another 56 years in this beautiful world? Well, I’ve learned to appreciate the power of “big hairy audacious goals” (BHAGs), so why not dream such dreams?

One of the comments on my last post (thanks, Patty) led me to revisit my personal purpose statement. My earliest attempt to put this down in writing (or at least, the earliest version that I still have on my current computer) dates to the year 2000. The last time I revised this statement was 2005 — but in re-reading it just now, I’m not sure I would change a word. All I need to do now is simply to move toward fully living it.

Three core values lie at the core of my personal purpose statement. All the rest of it is just details.

In my professional role as a leadership educator and coach, I have often led others through a values clarification exercise in which people sorted and prioritized a list of potential values including things like “achievement,” “spirituality,” and “wealth” — the whole gamut of a hundred or so things that my work colleague and I could imagine that someone might hold dear — and winnow the list down to just three. The key feature of this exercise is that the person has to not only choose three core values, but also must define exactly what they mean to him or her. The next step, then, would be to write a life goal statement or high-level “mission” incorporating those core values.

Every time I have tried to do this exercise for myself, I identify the same three values, so I think I have the right ones, the values that truly resonate with me and help me to stay true to myself in whatever circumstances and decision points I may face.

So… here they are:

Learning:    continuous, lifelong growth of knowledge, awareness, wisdom, and creative action

Harmony:    living at peace, in beauty, in balance, and at home in the world and in myself, in action and in stillness

Wholeness: absolute commitment to a whole life truthfully lived in creative relationships with an interconnected world.

 That’s it; that’s me; that’s what I’m here to do. The really cool thing is, everything I wrote yesterday aligns perfectly with these core values. In the process of doing whatever I might do in the future, I hope to make the world a better place in whatever small ways I may be able to make a difference. As I continue on whatever paths I may decide to follow, I’m going to keep doing, showing, living, and being those values.

It’s a great feeling to come home to and re-embrace one’s deepest values. Everything is going to be all right.

Oh yeah, all that and another PR at the Palm Springs half marathon in just a few weeks from now.  🙂

If I had all the time I needed…

How would I invest my time?

This is a question that is starting to arise in me. At the center of this whole idea of “life goes on,” “creating a new life,” “finding my way one step at a time,” and all those things I’ve been writing about (when you thought you had signed up for a blog about grief, or running, or whatever brought you here), there is a deeper question that is starting to emerge.

What do I really want to do with my life?

What adventures are waiting for me, things that I have not yet done, been prevented from doing, been forced to postpone? What dreams are still boxed up gathering dust on some shelf somewhere that I meant to get back to but could never find the time? Are any of them still worth pursuing? Or what new dreams (and realities) might unfold if I could clear away all of the dust that surrounds my present life?

Well, I think I have at least two books waiting to be written. There is a book that will come out of my dissertation research and all the thinking I have done since then about the experience of being in a place. There is a book about what it’s really like to be a caregiver for a terminally ill loved one (and I have a wealth of data from my blogs to draw upon for that one). Maybe there is even a book about running and/or blogging one’s way toward a new life. So if I suddenly found myself with an endlessly blank calendar, the first thing I would do is block out a few hours a day for some serious writing.

No, wait! The first thing I’d do is block out at least eight hours a night for sleeping. I’ve lived on 4-6 hours of sleep a night for so long, I can’t even imagine how much energy I might have if I ever got caught up on sleep. My natural body clock would love to go to bed about 2:00 AM and get out of bed around 10:00 AM. So the writing would be #2 on my to-do list, after staying up as late as I want and sleeping in as late as I want.

What else? I’d get more exercise. I’d walk or hike or bike on the days when I don’t run. I would drive less. I would spend more time among mountains, beaches, forests, and other wild places.

I’d get more serious about gardening. As a vegetarian, I’m curious to learn how much of my own food I could actually grow, given time to devote to it. I’ll never be able to eat completely locally in Washington state (I love lemons too much!), but my bioregion is amazingly diverse in terms of what can be grown. I’d like to learn how to make growing things thrive, and I can see myself teaching (or at least inspiring) others to make growing things thrive.

I’d make more friends. I’d get involved in local community-building and volunteer activiities. I’d dabble in art, music, and/or theatre. I have no idea where my beyond-writing muse(s) might lurk, but I want to try things. I see a local arts scene beginning to grow in my remote small town, and I think we have a shared interest in nurturing this growth.

I would take a whole bunch of photographs of the meeting of earth and sky, and of the way light pervades and transforms spaces.

I would spend money more intentionally, and I would recycle/resuse more carefully. While I may always be a gadget geek, there are no rules that say I have to hold onto every single obsolete, unused gadget… or collectible object or keepsake for that matter. I would get rid of a lot of stuff and create more space in my life for experiences.

I would live as consciously as possible in the moment, in each moment, because I know that the number of our moments is finite.

I would laugh more. I would play more. I would hope to love again. I would have fun.

Looking back at what I have just written, I wonder… what am I waiting for?

What about you? If you had “all the the time you needed” (along with the awareness that your time is, in fact, precious and finite), how would you invest your time?

Running barefoot on the beach!

My mini-vacation to my university’s national session was every bit the relaxing yet energizing experience I wanted it to be. Kurt had accompanied me to several of these annual events while I was a student, and I did have several unhappy moments this time — when I’d have to explain why he wasn’t with me this year. Yet each time I tell it, my story gets a little easier. Passing time (to say nothing of my massive amounts of reflection/writing/reflection/etc.) continues to give me a broader perspective and allows me to contextualize the past year and a half within the new horizons of my continuing life.

I attended exactly one seminar, a phenomenological exploration of music by led by three of my favorite faculty, which was way over toward the “fun” end of the scholarly scale. I attended two Final Oral Reviews (my school’s friendly term for a dissertation defense), one by a good friend and the other by a new friend I’d just met. Then there was a pre-graduation celebration, the graduation ceremony itself, and the post-graduation party. My only really difficult time was during graduation, when I watched 18 people stand up and thank their loved ones, as I vividly recalled saying the same things about and to Kurt three years ago. I had to leave the room and the building quickly afterwards because I simply couldn’t bear watching so many people being so happy together at that moment.

So what did I do then, and what in fact did I do during much of the time I was there?

I ran, of course!

I did 4 miles as planned on Thursday, along a bike/walk/run waterfront path that was mostly hard concrete but included some softer asphalt and much softer grass as well. Then I walked on the beach for a mile or so afterwards. I watched two women running barefoot on the wet sand, and I thought, “Maybe my feet would let me do that even if for only a little ways.” But I resisted that thought.

Friday morning (after staying up late celebrating with friends Thursday night) I was a little tired but I thought I’d try for my planned 6 miles and see how it went. I don’t usually run two days in a row so I already knew I was pushing my knees. But I finished those 6 miles feeling stronger and happier than the day before, so I decided I’d walk for a few more miles. My first stop was the city pier to watch people and eat ice cream. Then I headed toward downtown for some sightseeing. It’s only 1.5 miles from my hotel to the middle of downtown, but in all the years I’ve been coming there it never occurred to me that I could walk to downtown and not have to worry about parking. I was starting to like this idea of being temporarily car-free. I kept walking and feeling better and better, so that when I started what was to be my last mile back along the beach, I could no longer resist. I took off my shoes and socks and ran, carrying a shoe in each hand.

It was like I was ten years old! I was laughing out loud, talking to birds (including Elegant Terns and Black Skimmers!), and dancing through 4-6 inch deep water at the ragged edges of incoming waves. I couldn’t believe how much fun it was, and how effortless it seemed. I did know better than to push hard at all, and I made myself stop after about three-quarters of a mile. I then walked about half a mile back to my hotel room, completing a total of 10 running/walking miles for the day. The end result was a runner’s high that persisted for hours and was apparently visible on my face, as several people commented that I looked great!

Saturday morning I felt strong and not the slightest bit sore. I walked downtown for lunch, and hatched this plan that I would run again on the beach after graduation — which is another reason why I left so quickly. I went straight back to my room, changed into my running clothes (everything but the shoes), and dashed across the street, barefoot, to the beach. I had less than an hour before sunset and I wanted to make the most of my time. I had just as much fun as I’d had the day before, but I had to stop quickly at 1.3 miles when my right calf suddenly said “enough!” in no uncertain terms. I walked back carefully, stretching both legs every way I could think of, as I still had one more thing to ask of them.

Graduation parties at my school always feature a DJ and can get fairly rowdy. This one was no exception. I think I danced for at least two hours during the evening. I’ll confess that the open bar helped a lot with motivation as well as pain management.

Sunday morning I was extremely sore (knees, calves, and the soles of my feet), approaching the “I just ran a half marathon” level of intensity. So I figured the best thing I could do was walk a mile to breakfast and a mile back before heading out of town. Over breakfast I added up all the numbers, and I figure that I did at least 21 miles total over the four days. It felt rather odd to actually get into my car and drive 200 miles back here to the desert. I could get used to the idea of using human power to go places, at least locally, as often as possible. Wouldn’t it have been a shame to drive by and miss a view like this one?

This morning I was still sore, but I made it a point to get up from my desk (it was a work day for me) and walk around as much as possible. This evening I’m confident that I did no major damage, but I don’t think I’m ready to try barefoot running (or even minimalist shoe running) on anything but an extremely soft surface again any time soon. I would hate to actually injure myself less than four weeks before my next half marathon.

I still can’t believe how much fun it was, though.

I need to do fun things more often.

Right here, right now

I’ve been very busy the past several days, trying to meet short-term work deadlines and making other preparations for a few days of the luxury that I am now experiencing… a gift to myself of time, space, and the company of a community that is very dear to me.

I’m in a California coastal city for an annual gathering of students and faculty at the university where I did my PhD. Coming back here as an alumna, I don’t have to attend seminars or dissertation committee meetings. I can drink in the energy around me without absorbing any of the stress. This is one of the few places where I can talk about Dasein without getting blank stares in return. I spent some time in the bar last night discussing the finer points of a single essay by Heidegger, with a group of students who treated me like a rock star. I need this sort of occasional reminder that, in the arcane world of the academy, I can legitimately claim to be the global expert on one minuscule piece of humanity’s knowledge base. That’s very cool, on the totally cerebral plane.

Yet I’m also here to soak in the sight, sound, and smell of the ocean. I’m here to sleep in late and then go for a run along the beach. I’m here to practice this experience of being alive and present. Right here, right now.

So this is a short post, and I may not be able to respond to comments quickly. I’m going out now to walk on the beach and decide which direction I want to run. Or maybe I’ll decide to simply walk today. Either way, I shall have fun.

Rare birds

Here’s a blog post on a completely different subject — but given that I am a versatile blogger, I figure what the heck? Maybe someone can help me learn something here.

Today I drove down to Orange County to have lunch with a very dear friend in a restaurant where we have often shared long lunches. I think we were there nearly an hour today before we even got around to ordering food.  We had a lot of catching up to do, as the last time I saw her was last April when Kurt was still able to walk for short distances. Soon, however, we were both giggling like teenagers (all without assistance from anything stronger than decaf for me and iced tea for her!). By the time we finally went our separate ways, nearly three hours had passed. It couldn’t have been a more perfect lunch.

I wasn’t done, though. From there I went up to Huntington Beach to the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, which has been one of my favorite places to go birding since I first went there probably 15 years ago with the only birding class I’ve ever taken. Back then, they were just getting started with restoring the wetlands; today it is a fully restored tidal system that also has miles of walking/running trails and raised observation mounds with benches for serious birding or simple relaxing.

Almost as soon as I left my car I noticed a flock of large white birds far across the water. I thought they might be white pelicans but they were too far away to be sure. I zoomed in as far as I could go with my camera but still couldn’t say for sure. I had to download the photo to my PC when I got home and then zoom in on that before I could positively identify them as white pelicans. Any day that includes white pelicans is a blue-ribbon, all-star, heavy-metal birding day as far as I’m concerned.

But that was just the beginning. There were literally thousands of water birds there today, and I was working my middle-aged brain overtime trying to remember the names of what I was seeing. I knew the beautiful boy whose photo appears just below was some sort of teal, but the light was too bright for me to view my bird ID app on my iPhone, so I had to come home before I could verify that he was a green-winged teal — listed as “common” at Bolsa Chica but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one before.

I think I saw all of the local varieties of grebe, including my favorite, the western grebe, although I didn’t get a good photo of him. There were dozens of northern pintails, buffleheads, and ruddy ducks, hundreds of American wideons (whose call sounds exactly like the little squeak that yellow rubber duckies make), and all the usual common birds for this region including great egrets, snowy egrets, bazillions of coots, and a large variety of sandpiper-type birds that I can never tell one from another.

Then I saw the bird that really astonished, and still eludes me. When I first saw it I was sure it was a reddish egret, but I’ve never seen one before except way down in central Baja California where I did a gray whale watching ecotour a couple of years ago. When I got home, my bird ID app confirmed that they shouldn’t be this far north. The only other two possibilities I can come up with are little blue heron and tri-colored heron. All three birds are shown as “well, maybe sighted once or twice” on the list for Bolsa Chica.

Here is a photo of a bunch of reddish egrets that I took down in Baja:

Notice how they are striding through the water. Sometimes, they run through the water in what looks like a crazy, drunken dance. Unlike other large water birds they don’t wait for fish to come to them; they chase after the fish.

So here is the bird I saw today. The colors, size, shape and mannerisms immediately made me think “reddish egret!” The photo is blurry but I hope that someone out there in the blogosphere sees it and can tell me what I saw. Any ideas? Anyone?

By the way, this slow happy runner had her GPS watch on, so I can tell you that I walked a leisurely 2.89 miles today. I feel strong, well loosened up, and ready (I hope) for a good long run tomorrow morning. More importantly, I got to spend time in a very special place… a place where it is possible to see, hear, and feel the natural world and become oblivious to the fact that there are cars whizzing by at 60 MPH on PCH quite nearby. It is in places like this that I feel most alive and at peace. I need to be out there, completely absorbed in nature. I feel whole there.

I guess I’m a bit of a rare bird myself.

Gaining traction

Wheels are turning… slowly… but definitely starting to move in a new and definite direction. No, I haven’t yet done anything substantive about selling this condo, but I look around it now and I know that I can. I have had a series of small insights over the past couple of weeks that all point in this same direction.

There was the day when I stood in the household goods aisle at my favorite local natural foods grocery and realized that I didn’t have to make a special trip to Ralph’s to buy Kurt’s favorite “name brand” laundry detergent. I could buy an earth-friendlier product right there. Then the same thing happened with paper towels. Then I started to think about the “stuff” that I am ready to let go of, both here and at home in Washington. All of the footprint-reducing actions that I first wanted to do five years ago are possible now. I can get more serious about growing my food in my own back yard, or given the poor sun exposure in my back yard, I can even apply for a nearby community garden plot. I can become the full-fledged member of my chosen community that I always intended to be.

For our first six years in Washington, I was a graduate student in addition to holding down a fulltime and very challenging job in the big-corporation world. I had zero time to get involved in my community. Then I had a brief window of opportunity, in the mere month between when I finally finished my PhD and when I gave into Kurt’s cherished desire to have a condo for the winter, in which to think about how I might connect. I was talking to the people who were organizing the first large-scale community garden in my town. Then I just gave up on all that and tried to learn to be bi-platial.

I don’t have to be bi-platial anymore. I’ll be able to build four-season friendships with more than the very few people who have put up with my flakiness (you know who you are and I love you so much for your enduring faith in me). That thought makes me so happy that (“sentimental female” that I am) I’m sitting here crying just thinking about it. I want to work the earth side by side with my neighbors. I want to “break bread” with them. Hey, I just want to learn my neighbors’ names!

If I needed any more proof that I am “at home” with this decision, I got my proof this morning when I finally felt emotionally and physically stable enough to go out and nail a dawn run again. For the past three weeks I’d had to cut short every planned run for one odd reason or another — and I do think it has been related to stress. This morning I planned to run 4 miles, and I ran 4.01 miles smoothly, quickly (for me), painlessly, with pleasure, and without stress. I’m back (or so I hope!!!). Now I’ll need to focus on increasing the mileage for my long runs, as the PS half marathon is a mere five weeks away. I will only get in a few long runs now before it’s “taper time.” Maybe 6-8 miles this Sunday (my last long run in mid-December was 8.12 miles) and then 9+ once or twice in the second half of January, and that’s it. I don’t expect to run a lifetime PR in this race, as I’m not sure I’ll ever surpass the miracle that happened in Victoria last October, but I should smash my PR for THIS race by something like two minutes per mile. No small accomplishment, that.

So things are looking up, and getting better. I no longer have so much of that feeling of “two steps forward, one step back, three jostles sideways and — oops! — there’s another cliff I just went over.” It’s such a relief to feel, no matter how tentative, a semblance of solid ground beneath my feet. And the beginnings of a way forward. Traction… I could get used to this.