What it’s all about

You forget, don’t you. Especially when there’s a lot going on. When you’ve been struggling with issues. Setting yourself audacious goals and then despairing of ever meeting them. You get caught up with trying too hard; worrying about the future; worrying about not trying hard enough; worrying about not worrying about the future enough. The here and now is forgotten, or impossible to grasp.

Gene Wilder as Wonka

Gene Wilder, with a look, asks us: “Don’t you see?!”

The amazing things you’re exposed to in our magical world become mundane, or invisible…like a factory worker in his twentieth year at Wonka’s, caught up in trying to tweak the minutiae of his own frustrating process, oblivious to the fantastic machines whirring around him, the landscapes made of candy and the fact that all his workmates have orange skin, are four-foot nothing and keep bursting into song…”If only I could get this m**rf**king conveyor belt to run straight”, I see myself growling through gritted teeth, as a glass elevator floats past my ear.

All of that is fair enough, though. People who appear to live constantly ‘in the moment’ and seem, on first impressions, incredibly ‘well adjusted’ or ‘zen’ about it all are generally not what they seem, and quickly turn out to be either missing something fundamental in their understanding of the world, or just lacking in focus, discipline or responsibility. I find.

Real people are usually in some transition or vaccilation between caring too much, not caring enough or having a rare moment where things have mysteriously fallen into sway enough for a ray of perspective to light the world around them like a head torch through rain.

I think a number of factors came together this morning to create the perfect environment to spawn my little ray of light. Importantly,  my fitness is starting to finally return, which is coinciding with a (probably brief) period of balanced perspective in my working life, along with at least a tenuous truce with the various travails of raising three children. Last night I was at the pub against my will, but opted to drive and obediently drank light beers in accordance with the approximated blood alcohol the app in my phone was tracking. As a result I felt both gregarious and responsible.

Despite getting home later than I would like, when I knew the alarm was set for 4.47am, and eating some food I’d rather not have eaten…despite waking to rain and a chilly feeling that led me to take the rare step of pulling on a windproof jacket before leaving the house…despite the feeling of unfinished business that worried my bowels as I drove to the foot of Mt Dandenong…despite all that: once I had taken off the jacket, hopped out of the car, switched on my head light and run up the hill, those little things melted away.


The city floats above a sea of cloud in the distance

It’s also the first day of winter, and the weather has come to the party, breaking an unseasonably warm spell through May and even blessing us with precipitation, though nothing a bunch of trail runners are going to acknowledge at 6am. Some might view winter’s arrival in a negative light, but I love the winter in Melbourne (which is waaaaay tamer and sunnier than the disproportionate whinging of Melbournites would suggest)…and I love winter in the bush, and I love running in the (sort of) bush, near Melbourne, in the winter.

Perhaps there’s something about the start of any season that has this feeling of renewal about it. Though not obvious immediately, a growing mood of levity and youthful abandon grew among us four – an eclectic mix of characters – as we ran. By the time the more tired among us had warmed up – about ten kilometres in – it was a veritable party. The uphill races were more fun than usual; the extraordinary display of strength from Ben, when spontaneously deciding to hold our hands and pull two of us up a steep hill at a pace I could probably not have maintained on my own, let alone dragging two grown men behind me, was reminiscent of a lion cub swatting a sibling into a tree because he can; seeing DJ – a man of nearly 50 – bouncing on a trampoline that had been discarded next to one of the lower trails, his wild ginger hair flying up at the top of each leap (my comment at the time: “Caption: The Highland Games 2014”); and Ben’s assault on a rope swing that was hanging near the same trail.

All of that was just the icing on the cake. The main thing was that, not far into the run, I was grinding out a longish, steepish hill and something inside me clicked.  Just as I realised there was enough light to switch off my head torch, a voice inside me also commanded: “Look around you, tool!” (in a booming voice, so to speak.) And although I was only halfway up that climb, as I ran on I looked up and around me at the tall trees above, the luscious tree ferns on every side, the incredible abundance and density of all that growth and life around me, and I remembered why I was there.

From then on, for the rest of the run – for the rest of the day, so far – my consciousness shifted squarely into the present. Every beautiful tree, every hopping marsupial I saw, every amusing quip from my running mates, none of this missed the point. All of it sparkled and shone like a freshly polished unicorn eye glazed in toffee and sold as a snack at an ice rink. The ground kissed my forefeet with each stride as I ran, the breath came smooth and sweet into lungs that burned not, no matter how hard I pushed.

After getting into my car to drive home, I was amazed to hear the person on the radio refer to the day as grim and bleak. “Grim and bleak, my arse!” I declared aloud, as I piloted my tiny car along the rough corrugations of the dirt road, dangerously trying to sip on my protein recovery drink between gear shifts and already pondering what measures I was going to take to hold on to this feeling. Unfortunately, it will pass.

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