In March of 2020, I returned home, to the mountains, and I mourned the loss of the final weeks of my senior year of college. But within my mourning, there was a gift. I began to run the newly empty streets of my small town every day. I began to be able to run a little further each week. Soon, I found myself running deeper into the path that winds its way through the corn fields that run alongside the public library. And then running through the cross country courses at a nearby river estate.
I ran and ran and ran until my legs ached. Until all I could feel were my lungs heaving beneath my many layers, and I had to stop with my hands on my knees and breathe in the sharp sharp New York March air.
As I ran into the late spring and the early summer, I began to notice the changes in the valley around me. I watched the crocuses cautiously poke their heads up above the ground. I watched the bright feathery leaves make their debuts on the winter-weathered branches of the trees. I hopped over the red efts who slowly made their way along the same path I took, stepping carefully through the puddles, relishing the misty air on their damp skin.
I had never had the honor of watching the land that I live in undergo this transition as closely as I did this spring. It seemed that there had always been something else to focus on. I cared for the Hudson Valley and the Catskills and the other living things that called it home, but I did not know them. I did not watch for them carefully and lovingly.
But things are different this year. I know the routes of the animals who live along the paths that I run. I know the bluebirds and where they have made their nests for the summers. I call out my ‘hello’ as I run by in the mornings. I know where the garter snake enjoys to lay out in the early light, warming his chilled body. I hop around him gingerly. I do not want him to move on account of me.
Finishing a run in early summer, I saw the skinny behind of a red tailed fox slink into view. She trotted a little ways ahead, eyes ever forward. I followed softly behind her. She disappeared around a bend in the path, and when I rounded the bend she was gone. I smiled, thinking that I was just another animal trotting through the woods on a Tuesday morning. We ran together.