Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Slow Run, Slow Food

Winter approaches. The clocks have changed. It gets dark so early now. It’s time for slow food.

I have Wednesday evening mostly to myself these days. The nest is empty and my wife works late. My natural tendency is probably to grab something quick for dinner and waste the evening by flipping mindlessly through the TV channels or surfing the web aimlessly. There are times, though, when I find myself in a Moose Hill state of mind and I plan to prepare some slow food and go for a run up Moose Hill while dinner is cooking.

Tonight, it was a veggie bake. When I prepare dishes like this, I like to make a lot. I figure I already have the ingredients and tools out and I have to wash the dishes anyway, so I might as well make plenty so there are leftovers. I coat the bottoms of two big covered casserole dishes with olive oil and fill them up with chopped potatoes and all kinds of other vegetables; usually lots of carrots, a few onions and something green. For protein, I throw in some chick peas and edamame if I have it. I liberally sprinkle on salt (Possibly too much!), cumin, a dash of hot pepper, dill, paprika and any other seasonings that catch my eye. The dishes go into the oven set at about 300 degrees and I head out the door. (If this post sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote about this before. See “Moose Hill Moosewood,” January 16, 2007.)

I set my stopwatch and walked down the street. I had to run across Main Street to avoid traffic, so I kept going at a slow jog. I was feeling good. I had the usual aches and pains that age and mediocre conditioning provide, but there were no health issues to blame. There was a long line of cars creeping up Depot Street, commuters returning home from the train station and the highway beyond. As always, I was glad I can stay close to home and don’t have to face that battle every day.

The evening was warm for November (In the low 50’s.) so I knew I might be slightly overdressed. The evening always feels colder than it really is when it’s dark and my metabolism is already slowing down so I tend to wear too much. By the time I had walked and then jogged for ten minutes and was half way up Moose Hill Parkway I was ready to shed my light fleece top. I hid it behind a tree at the beginning of the Kettle Trail and continued on my way, leaving jacket and cell phone behind. I checked my heart rate monitor as I passed beneath the street lights because in my own casual style of training regimen I try to keep my workouts aerobic this time of year. That means I like to keep my heart rate between about 120 and 140 beats per minute to build an aerobic base for harder training as spring approaches. This sounds good, but what it really means is that runs and rides this time of year can be slow and lazy.

With the surgery and sickness of the summer behind me, I’ve been feeling stronger, so on this night I decided to extend my usual run to the top of the Parkway and press on to the summit of Moose Hill itself. If the moon was up yet, it did me no good hiding behind the overcast that blew in after a beautiful sunny day. The Summit Trail was dark and a fresh blanket of fallen leaves obscured the details so I had to slow my jog to a walk. This was fine because when the trail turned up the flanks of the hill a fast walk was all the workout I needed.

When I reached the summit and passed under the fire tower it was too dark to read my watch, so I don’t know what my time was. I wanted to compare it to the time this summer when I struggled through heat and illness to get to this place, not knowing I was carrying Lyme Disease. No big deal. I was feeling strong and happy and that’s all that mattered.

As I turned to head back down the rocky trail, my workout took a back seat to safety. I had visions of breaking a leg in the dark and having to claw my way along on my belly because my cell phone was half way down the hill in my jacket pocket. I went slowly until I was back on smooth ground.

I ran back down the road and was mildly proud of myself for remembering to pick up my jacket and phone. Along the way I started thinking about the Quakers. Every Wednesday night since the beginning of the Iraq War a small group has been standing on the street corner in the center of town to remind us that people are fighting, killing and dying in our name. On the news today we heard more about how our State Department is outsourcing the killing to Blackwater. In another story, I heard that a carpenter’s union is outsourcing their strike picketing to homeless people and others hard up for a few bucks. When I stopped for a few minutes to chat with a lone protester, I was happy to see he was still doing his own vigil-keeping. We still have heroes, unsung though they may be.

When I got home I was happy to see the front porch light on, even if I had left it on for myself. Dinner was done to perfection with the chick peas just slightly crunchy. The kitchen was warm from the oven. For a few moments in the quiet house, it felt like I was able to bring a little bit of Moose Hill home with me.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

The Healing Hill

Saturday November 10, 2007

I usually go to Moose Hill alone. It’s not that I don’t like company, I do, but it just seems to work out that way. I’m not an early bird, but most people I know would likely prefer an extra hour or two in bed on a Saturday morning to dragging themselves out of the house before breakfast to climb a hill with an oddball who seems distracted by the most insignificant little things in the woods. I certainly treasure time alone to quietly observe the wonders around me and to lose myself in my thoughts, but I’ve often felt it could be fun and rewarding to share my trips with other nature lovers. I volunteered at the sanctuary to coordinate a “naturalist’s collaborative” of people who could explore these woods together and share knowledge, observations and experiences. I would love to have someone teach me something about, say, ferns and mosses while I share something about trees or birds. Like so many of my silly ideas, this one was not received with much enthusiasm.

This past Saturday was different. An old friend of mine is in pain. I don’t know what is hurting him exactly, but the anguish is obvious and he reached out to me. Many of us – perhaps most of us – have things in our past that we think are behind us and forgotten that are only lying dormant like an insidious virus, waiting to flare up at a moment of weakness. Others may have things more like a soul-eating bacterium, steadily nibbling away at our hearts. Some bear wounds, others harbor dark secrets. There are those who are so inherently toxic they don’t even notice that something is wrong, and there are those who know that something is wrong and wish desperately to be well. Clearly, my friend is struggling bravely and mightily to get well.

What do I know about easing mental anguish and helping someone who is suffering? Nothing, obviously. I have no training and no special insights. Much of my life has been devoted to avoiding conflict and challenge rather than confronting them. More than once, in times of crisis, I’ve been accused of being AWOL. When my friend called, about all I could offer was a walk on Moose Hill.

I loaded my backpack with my breakfast, a Thermos of coffee to share and my old down vest in case the weather turned cold and damp. My friend had a sandwich in his pocket. We walked up Moose Hill Parkway in the cool November air and I was happy and hopeful to see the predicted clouds were allowing a few rays of sunshine to peek through. Half way up the road we turned into the forest on the Vernal Pool Trail. We were headed for the Boulders, one of my regular breakfast spots. My favorite places on Moose Hill are not exactly secret, but I don’t give them up lightly. On this day, I was happy to share.

As we walked, and as we sat and ate, we talked. I tried to be a good listener. I tried not to read too much into every little thing that was said, but I also tried not to miss any significant messages. I wanted him to tell me everything he could and nothing he was not prepared to say. Things my friend said reminded me of some issues of my own and I talked about them thinking that, perhaps, his misery might enjoy some company. I tend to wallow in my own misery the way some people seem to embrace victimhood. It can be easier to blame others for our troubles rather than clearing up misunderstandings or examining our own faults. But this was not about me, so I hope I didn’t talk too much. Our time together may have helped me more than it helped him but I hope he found some comfort. I may never know.

After breakfast we continued on our way and, as always, Moose Hill offered some pleasant distractions. On the Vernal Pool Trail toward the visitor’s center we appreciated the glacial outwash features in the landscape. We saw a few spots where rutting bucks had scraped bare patches into the trail, and then saw a deer on the hoof loping through the oaks, white flag flying. We had a side-by-side comparison of ground pine Lycopodium and a real white pine seedling. In the parking lot we saw some recently-returning juncos to remind us that even a wintry New England seems warm to somebody, and to remind us that that winter is right around the corner.

At the visitor’s center, we crossed the road and went back into the woods to follow the Ovenbird Trail back down the hill toward home. We took a side trip over Hobbs Hill where I pointed out another favorite meditation spot. I thought about how this was where I went not long ago seeking some comfort for myself (See “Your Content Has Been Deleted,” March 26, 2007.). I promised myself that I would come back soon. For now, it seems that my moment of danger may be behind me and, in my own way, I would like to share some of my joy and gratitude with these woods. I only hope that someday soon my friend will be able to do the same.