I hadn’t known I’d be away so long. The woods are a healing place where solitude is my gentle companion, the trees are my friends, and the wildlife my only witnesses.
The last time I’d run in the woods, though. was the end of October, and now it was February of the following year. Injury had followed injury, and, at 48, I was starting to believe what the other people were saying, how we all got older, how we had to slow down. It broke my heart. They had to be wrong. They just had to be.
Slowly, after a couple of false starts, I had been building the distance back up. My long run for several weeks was 3k. Increases felt frightening, and I was so conscious of any pains, conscious of setting myself back. I didn’t even want to run around the block with my children, afraid of the extra distance.
Finally, though, on this warm summer Friday, I was ready. I planned to run 9k up around Mount Dandenong, doing part of the course for the Roller Coaster Run which is coming up in March. I’ve run those trails so many times, they have become my playground. I plotted a course, and set off at the civilized time of 9 am, all alone.
The simple track seemed treacherous after months away, tree roots and rocks threatening sprains and further injury. I stepped carefully, walking in places I’d never walked before. Later, on wider tracks, I noted that the places where it had been muddy were completely dried out. Flowers I had anticipated watching bloom had already bloomed and withered. And the old nervousness I felt of being alone in the woods had returned. I was anxious and scared of strange men, on high alert.
The first thing that I saw, though, instead of a scary man, was a brown wallaby hopping quickly off my trail. I stopped and watched him for a few moments, thanked him for his presence. Then I ran on.
It took a while to find my flow. But at Stables Track there it was, waiting for me like an old friend. I danced down the trail in quick, short strides. It didn’t hurt. My body remembered what to do. That’s when my eyes teared up a bit – I was back. I was home.
Just before I injured myself last year, I had a great solo run (a long, long run) around the same trails. All was grey and olive and dry that day, the colors subdued, the world quiet. I was getting tired, and feeling just a little bit lonely. Suddenly, from out of a hollow in a tree, two Rainbow Lorikeets appeared, bright points of color on the dull landscape. The contrast was sudden and wonderful. A feeling of life soared through me. It was simple joy.
The following week at an art exhibition, I purchased an oil painting that reminded me of those Lorikeets. I’ve looked at it for months, recalling the independence I’d felt that day, the freedom, the wild.
And today, today, there they were again, my old friends. I stopped and spoke with them and they didn’t fly away.
I ran for just over an hour. A perfect, joyous hour.
Perhaps next week, it will be more. I don’t really care how far or long I go anymore. I just want to be present for each stride, each magic memory of the woods.