Today was the first day it hasn’t been sunny and crisp and beautiful. I went running in the park even though the clouds were wooshing grey and tumultuous across the sky and the wind was whipping the trees leaves into a furious wave-like rushing. I knew such weather would mean that the park would be empty, or close to it, and I was right. The long, sweeping meadows today contained only grass and hills. Since everywhere was shady there was no competition for the arcs of dark beneath the trees. The paths winding through the ravine and around the reservoir were wet and speckled with leaves clinging to the black asphalt, beautiful and clean and untrodden by the muddy feet of people and dogs and children. It was a lovely day, and though I ran hard and struggled now and then against the wind, my lungs sang for the comfort of breathing in fresh, wet air, and my eyes could have cried for the beauty of seeing only trees, grass, water, and the occasional fellow runner.
A few weeks ago I made my first excursion to the Brooklyn Public Library, the big one, right at the entrance to the park at Grand Army Plaza. I went for a discussion group on Mrs. Dalloway but stayed for the books, picking up, among other things, Hermoine Lee’s biography of Virginia Woolf. The thing is too heavy to take about with me; it’s over 700 pages and is exhaustive, definitely for the scholar, not a popular audience. But I’m enjoying it. Not in the same way I enjoy the novels, of course, but it does at times have a similar quality of transporting one to an idyllic English past. You see, I’m a bit of an Anglophile. I have always loved reading Victorian and other early English literature, hell, even modern English literature, because it takes me over there, across the pond, and makes me feel like I, too, know something about the grey skies and the sloping heaths, the tea, the fish and chips, the fireplaces and cold English nights. I studied in London as a college student, and my romantic relationship with the Isle has never ended, though my romantic relationship with one of her subjects certainly did (and badly). But that hasn’t tainted my love of England. So, when I run in Prospect Park, in Brooklyn, on a dreary, wet day like today, I am partially running in Alexandria Park, and at Hampstead Heath, and in Hyde Park. I’m trudging through the muddy paths at Highgate Cemetery, and when I’m done I’m coming in out of the cold to a bathtub, and then a drawing room complete with drapes, and a fire, and a cup of tea.
And, when the air gets misty and lush, and refreshing droplets start to fall from an otherwise blessedly blue sky, I’m also back in Oregon. Running along that winding path of mine beside the calm, sturdy Willamette River, watching the birds flit and the squirrels scamper and the trees and grass blow in the breeze. It just feels so good to be out in air, to feel air on my skin, air untainted by garbage or urine or cigarette smoke or even pizza, perfume, or the fruity, welcome smell of marijuana. Just earth, damp and wet, dark and sweet, reminding me that while I am happy to be here, thrilled with the way life is going and excited about all the opportunities this city of cities has to offer, deep down, what I really want, is more time outside. This question keeps popping into my head as I run, as I feel the air on my skin, and it’s a good one, and I know the answer (miracle!) – what do you really want? I want a family, and a warm, cozy house to settle us all in. I want enough money to travel regularly. I want to keep on writing and teaching. And I want to be outside; I want to see more of the outdoors of this world, in all countries, in all places, and I want to meet the people who know the outdoors. I want to have these simple things, and I can. If I just come back to home – to the feeling of the air – and breathing, and reminding myself of the answer to that simple question every single day.