My expressions of gratitude happen everyday when I run–for the many taken-for-granted gifts of my life. I also say a special thank you for running–that I am free to run, able to run with my body, given the time to run, allowing my mind the space to run, and provided the safe, public places to run in the forest.
But, my highest gratitude is often reserved for the hill I call Big Mama. She teaches me more frequently than any person, book, animal, or event. She’s more than a hill–she’s an entity– her forest. Running Big Mama takes everything I have. She keeps going even when you think the hill has got to stop with the next stride. Even after you’ve curved past the bench and surmounted a second small hill tucked into the top of Big Mama, the hill rises into a cedar grove and finally, after about a full 4-minute climb, lets go of you on the rocky path littered with tree roots and fallen leaves. As if the height, rocks, and roots weren’t enough to make you do some serious thinking, the airflow is completely banished on the hill, like she has permanently shut the window. On the most humid days, she wears wool.
To me, Big Mama has a baby on her hip, and you need to dig your toes along the side of the trail to climb the next hill without rocks rolling underneath your feet and slipping you up. That “baby hill” will cause you to pop your chin on the ground while going up (it only seems like a baby hill when compared to Big Mama), and at the very least, baby will make your palms sting if you climb it enough times. Afterward, it’s a jarring downhill stroll, like your toddler makes, plummeting quickly. You’ll hammer all your joints in place.
I call the third hill Big Mama’s daughter. She begins with lovely dogwoods, fern-filled rolling ravines, and a wiggly path with refreshing winds, but then the pitch becomes steep and you climb the path like stairs and hop roots to the top. Weary–it’s time to twist and slide across the big stones, down, down, down to the flat path until climbing those hills again.
Big Mama and her daughters teach me about empowerment. Though I’m exhausted by running miles along her trails, I’ve learned what it means to be weak and strong, to be relieved of my anxieties, to be open to possibilities.
When I run, I’m the most receptive to everything in life. I’m open to my mistakes, to correcting my relationships, looking at the challenges I face and the miles I’ve come to accomplish what I choose to be my goals. While I lose sweat and energy, I gain courage and understanding.
Even as I don’t think I can do it again, I return to the foot of the hill. I can’t see more than her magnificence and height rising above me at that moment–I can’t see all that she sees and knows, not until I climb as high as my legs will carry me on the trail. And yet, there’s all that story beneath my feet, where I must look to keep my balance. So many stories to tell from the plants and animals and stones and minerals and water that make up the path–it’s place & movement that allow the imagination to grunt and haul a story into being.