The Present Tense Of A Dog
live in the moment and think with your nose
There’s no ignoring it. When it’s only a few pounds here and there you can. You can be a little uncomfortable in your clothes. You can carry yourself a little different. You can keep your eyes forward in the mirror out of the shower. Eventually though, you just can’t get those pants on anymore. You can’t get that belt on anymore. You breathe heavier at the top of the stairs. You see less of yourself from the waist down.
Life gets you totally out of sync sometimes. Or, you get out of sync with life. You move across country, you switch careers for the umpteenth time, your partner cooks better than your mother and both grandmothers combined (sorry mom, still love you, but it’s true), you get a puppy who takes up every damn last loveable second of your free time.
So, I stopped running. And it’s not shame or disgust that makes me miss it, makes me know I’ll find a way back, it’s a handful of memories that were huge experiences to begin with and age in my mind into the softest leather.
I used to be a management trainee for a big corporation. My hours sucked and my time was not really my own. At the time running was a stress relief. I would get home at 10, 11, past midnight, and I would suit up. No matter how tired I was I needed to run. To burn it out. I hadn’t let myself slip so far that running was a mountain to climb every time I went out like it is now.
I had a loop that went around the streets of Northampton, Massachusetts. It had a big climb at one point and was almost a perfect 3 mile circle. Some nights I just kept tacking on another loop, in the days when running 12 or 15 miles only meant I was missing sleep. My life in many ways was unsatisfying, but the running kept me sane, and more importantly, kept me dreaming.
I was out one night when I looked ahead of me and saw a fox on Elm Street. It was crossing from the side of the street I was on to the other side and it stopped. Right there in the middle of the road. At first it was turning its head to look back at me. I was afraid a little at first, because what do I know about a fox? Are they dangerous?
The fox stopped in the street, but it was so late that there weren’t any cars. Then he turned to face me. I was still about a quarter mile away I guess. I got closer and he stayed put. I kept my eyes on him thinking should I stop or should I run past? I slowed. I was moving at a walking pace but still jogging. High-stepping I guess. I was waiting for him to take off on his original route, but he just watched me pass.
Then something amazing happened. He crossed back over to the side of the street I was on. He ran, behind me, so that I thought he must be running away from this scary human.
I returned to my normal pace. Within seconds he was pacing beside me in the grass, about 15 feet from me. If I slowed down, he slowed down. When I sprinted, he caught up without passing. I called out to him, yowling, and he sprinted ahead of me looking back. I called him a “show off” and yelled the words, “hey, I’m a biped!” and he turned around, ran back, and picked up pace beside me again. This time almost on the sidewalk with me. So close I could touch him.
We ran like that together for what seemed like an eternity, but was really just an unforgettable few minutes. I looked over at him like I do now at my hound dog and he seemed so clearly to be having fun. He was running with me. I have never felt more like a runner before or since, even in races or breaking personal records. It was the only time running I ever felt fully and with great joy:
It wasn’t that I was superhuman or in great shape or suddenly had bragging rights to my best bench press or something (although I love that sh*t at times too). It was nothing as manufactured as that. It was wild. This fox had made me an animal, a real animal for 2 minutes, and it was everything to me.
As you wind down Elm Street you come to a church that’s just on the edge of Northampton center. The street lights come up and the cars are always out. It’s a great city that I miss everyday I’m in beautiful California, but like any city it’s a human city. My fox friend came to a stop just ahead of the church. He wasn’t beside me anymore. I turned and jogged in place staring back at him and he made a sound, standing there, that was like a bark but was something else. It was for me. We were the only 2 animals out there and it was like he was saying, “hey, I can’t go down there. I’m an animal.”
I didn’t really know what to do. He was a fox when it came down to it and I was some dude who hated his job and was just out for a cathartic jaunt. I was a tourist to the wild. I kept jogging in place and then he finally made the choice I couldn’t. He ran back towards the dark and the trees and the other animals. I heard his strange bark a couple more times, and watched until I couldn’t see him anymore.
And then I went back to my run. A little less human and so much better for it.
live in the moment and think with your nose
for anyone struggling with this impossible decision
a wonderful dog who taught me how to properly eat popcorn