We’ve had a lot of rain over the past few days, and the tree frogs are keen to mate. I love their calls in the night. I don’t know why. The sound reminds me of those battery-operated toy puppies that used to hop and chirp outside the Kay Bee toy store at the mall. It should be annoying, but somehow, the optimism of life calling out to life heartens me—especially when I think of their small, glossy bodies, as perfect and fragile as if molded and glazed in porcelain. I think of that vulnerability, that imperative to raise their voices in the dark, to be heard, no matter the risk, and I realize that what I am hearing, what is resonating in my heart, is the sound of hope.
This week, I took part in the World Wide WordPress 5K, during which bloggers are encouraged to complete a 5K and blog about it. I walk, and sometimes even run, every day, but I don’t always quite get to the 3.1 mile mark. Yesterday, however, under the guidance of the Runkeeper app (more about this next week), I went for a 3.5 mile run/walk—alternating a half mile of running with a quarter mile of walking. Here is an approximation of that excursion.
I start just after 6 am. It’s gotten a little cooler lately—only 73 degrees. Of course the humidity is still at 95%, so I know I will be doing some serious sweating. As I run out of my apartment complex, it’s still quite dark. Only a few people are stirring. I bounce across the squeaky wooden bridge that is slowly rotting away as everything wooden here does and into the business park car lot. I am grateful for the street lights that light my way. I like the flurry of insects dancing in their golden glow. But I also enjoy the mysteries of the shadows—how everything is transformed by the dark, becomes more or less than it appears in the light of day. I find the darkness comforting. I feel held by it.
I cross the boulevard along which I will continue my jaunt. It’s a quiet artery, connecting several domestic subdivisions. I take up the path—a few yards from the road—that will lead me alongside the street. I am grateful for the trees that accompany me on both my left and right—the towering ponderosa pines, the flowering crepe myrtles, the sturdy live oaks, and all those others whose names I do not yet know. I glance briefly at the first drainage pond, often home to various water birds, but it’s still too dark to make them out. During this first half mile, I groove to the strains of Lady Gaga and Rihanna flowing into my ears and delight in the slight rush of air my movement through the predawn causes.
As I reach each subdivision, I inspect the decorations hung on their signs. It’s football season and they are mostly decked out in Saints black and gold and LSU purple and gold. The combinations often come off as a bit funereal, once prompting my mother to amend the Saints slogan from Who Dat? to Who Died?
I’ve past a few other early exercisers already, but it’s three quarters of a mile in before I see any of the regulars: The speedy woman walker whom I often come up on and to whom I gently call out, “On your left.” She always squeezes her arms into her body to take up less space, preparing for any onslaught I might bring. “Good morning,” I say as I pass her scenting her gentle baby powder aura. Good morning,” she always beams back—as though her eighty odd years have done nothing to quell the joy that determines to exude from her body. I want to be like her—not when I’m eighty, but right now.
I also see the adventure dog and her owner. She’s a small terrier mix (I think) who always seems to be moving forward toward a thrilling future. Her real name is Jazzy. She typically walks with an older retriever-like dog, but I guess she’s home resting her hips today. Their owner—a fairly fit man in his fifties—usually has some wisecrack to lay on me. To which, I all too often, I pull out an ear bud and reply cluelessly, “Excuse me?” making him have to repeat the joke.
I walk some and run some more until, almost a mile later I see my sister at the bus stop, where she has just sent one of her children off to school. We chat for a few minutes. I love when I see her and my nieces and nephew when I go out in the morning. I love those unimportant accidental meet-ups that can only happen because we live in the same town. I turn around at the 1.75 mile mark. My teenage niece and I exchange smiles on my return trip. I let my hand rub against her back as I trot by.
It has become much lighter by now. The streetlamps still smolder, but the sun is rapidly making them redundant. I greet a few elementary school children in their navy blue polo shirts and khaki shorts. I gaze at the vines that have conquered wooden fences. I note the progress of the kumquats and satsumas on their respective trees. I spot another older woman across the street with her spoiled, little brown poodle, also called Jazzy (we’re just outside of New Orleans). I wave and she lifts her cane at me. I see the grey minivan that every day conveys a golden retriever, his head protruding from the open window, proclaiming how wonderful everything is.
As I approach more high school students, an habitual debate resumes in my mind: do I inflict my hellos on them? I often wonder if I am being annoying to these teenagers who have plenty of other irritants roiling in their sensitive brains. I usually settle for a smile and a quiet blanket good morning as I travel through the groups of students—though I tend to hold my breath a bit when I get to the cloud of cologne and body spray emanating from one particular gaggle of boys.
It’s not long before I return to the second drainage pond and see the various geese and ducks. Right next to it is a gazebo where the Catholic school kids gaze at their phones while waiting for their bus. During my final walking interval I look up into the sky to find a great egret flying over me. It looks as though its wide wings are flapping just past the moon whose face still shows in the now light blue sky. I search the trees’ green leaves for the barred owl I spied a few days ago being chastised by crows, but no luck.
I begin the final bout of running and think about the day ahead. There is breakfast to make and food shopping to do. Oh, and let’s not forget a thorough shower. My predictions were correct. My clothes are soaked, my body is glossy, and my face—thanks to my Swiss heritage—is a feverish red. As I run back through my apartment complex, I am passed by several cars leaving, people on their way to work. I startle a bevy of birds and one squirrel who have been taking advantage of one of the tenant’s birdfeeder. The white cat across the way peers enthusiastically through her window as they scatter before me
My app informs me that my “workout is complete”. I stop and stretch a little. I allow my face to cool a bit. I let a weeping willow tickle my shoulders as I walk toward my apartment, and I look around once more. The world has come completely alive in the last 40 minutes. The veil of mystery is lifted and the sun begins to burn in earnest.
Have you done a 5k recently? What was your experience like?
The goslings hatched yesterday.
Oh, how I have worried since I saw their mother sitting on her nest so close to our apartment complex’s drainage pond, that in the unforgiving torrents of southeastern Louisiana rain often rises up to swallow all the land it can find. I have wanted to remonstrate with her gander, as he cruised around territorially, daring anyone to disturb her sanctuary, but seemingly unconcerned by the dangers of hungry water. In the night, I have heard the waterfall pour down, and I have said a prayer for the little eggs under their mother’s belly. “Let them be safe. Let them not float away.”
They are floating now, little yellow fluff balls in a tidy line on the water, one parent in front, the other in back. They have joined their fellow pond denizens: the few big black ducks—a chorus from a Greek play who greeted us in the early morning darkness when we first arrived here. And the troop of male mallards—three of whom sometimes stand nonchalantly and, from my point of view, comically, on the cement wall surrounding their home. Other times they scurry gracelessly through the complex searching for food. Whoever said that ducks go quack? These do not. They mutter a low mat, mat, mat like so many absent-minded professors churning their great ideas in the open air, there being no more room left in their overstuffed minds.
Then there are the visitors: The great egrets, their beaks long, true, yellow spears, their impossibly white feathers waving in the wind like ceremonial robes. They strut slowly and quietly through the shallows, waiting for the right moment to stab into the water and toss their prize to the back of their throats to make the long snaking journey to their stomachs.
The great blue heron does this, too, but he is more stately somehow. Perhaps it is only his superior size, but no, there is something in his bearing that brings a certain otherworldliness to mind. His feathers seem to change colors to suit a whim. On a grey morning he may even become invisible, matching the air’s dusky complexion. On a bright day, he may be streaked with blue and white and black. Always alone, the heron is never lonely. His pose is unhurried, the long beard of feathers at his neck giving him the air of an old man thinking of times long past and great mysteries only mystics can contemplate.
More infrequently we the see the snowy egret—a fisherman down to his great, yellow rubber boot feet. And the lively, blue kingfisher—the lookout and the herald. Perhaps he is even now dispersing the news of the goslings’ arrival with his twittering, kissy call.
I am grateful for these birds and for the everyday poetry they compose simply by being alive.
Thank you for reading. 🙂