Christmas Eve in the West Village

My street at Christmas

on the hudson river, people take selfies and groupies against the fading bright layers of sunset

a muscled black man in combat gray t-shirt, jeans, leather boots, and earbuds sits down on a bench facing the river, singing in falsetto

I do a double-take as I run by

a french-speaking family of 7 or 8 spans the entire walkway

I pause a beat for a gap and slip through

a police boat flashes blue and red lights on the jersey shore

down river, lady liberty shines pale green across the water

I do an extra leg along the river, strong and free

I can run forever and don’t want to ever stop

but friends and dinner at EN japanese are on the menu, so I cross west street at eleventh when the white walker beckons

a young man in a black suit, white shirt, sits on a stool at the corner of perry and bleecker, playing mournful cello

he smiles when I run by

four twenty-somethings dressed holiday festive fill the sidewalk, one of the women carrying pink lilies, on their way to a dinner party

I swerve into the street to pass

I bet a lot of people live in sixth floor walk-ups

don’t you think some people own the top two floors?

no way!

on the next corner, a giant black SUV idles at the curb

a diminutive black man holds open the door for a very large black man

I wonder if he’s a famous rapper

I smile at the driver in complicity about the glory of being near this man

he doesn’t get it

at seventh ave and greenwich the light is with me but sirens are coming my way, a block uptown

I dash across flying on endorphins and more glory

jayrunning across greenwich, two guys on bikes run the light at charles and I slow and change my angle to let them pass in front of me

we rule the night


coins jingling in his paper cup, the grizzled black man who sits on an over-turned bucket next to the magazine stand at sixth avenue and west ninth street sings

and heaven and nature sing

and heaven and nature sing

and hea-ven and he-e-ven and nature sing

the sirens rise

Part 5: Ceremony for owl and the wild ones

Great grey owl, photographer Chris DoddsAs I have mentioned previously, a wise wild woman suggested that the great grey owls I encountered this summer were angry. I considered her interpretation of the events, and decided to follow her suggestion of performing a ceremony to let the owls know of my good intentions.

I have long been interested in sacred ceremony and ritual, and first learned the pagan method of working with the four directions. Interestingly, the four directions, which often correspond to the four elements of water, earth, air, and fire, are used in many cultures the world over. The pagan rituals I learned had their roots in Celtic traditions. When I studied to become a vision fast guide, the same four elements were assigned in the same order around the wheel, but a quarter turn further along! This usage arose out of the ways of the Native American traditions of the Lakota people. However, the roots for the Lakota medicine wheel are said to arise from the ceremonies of the ancient Mayan people. It can become very confusing and perhaps impossible to determine which traditions originated where.

But what is clear is that earth-based peoples the world over have identified the usefulness of a nature-based psychology and ceremony that uses the four directions, orienting by the path of the sun across the sky from east to west and the north and south poles of the earth. Similarly, different cultures have selected similar elements as being significant to work with, including the four I’ve named. Other cultures sometimes incorporate additional elements too. For example, in both Buddhist ceremony and pagan ritual the element of ether or space is sometimes used. The Dagara people of West Central Africa use the elements of earth, water, fire, mineral, and nature (green growing things).

I’d like to tell you about a way of beginning a ceremony that I learned at the School of Lost Borders. This ceremony is used by many different Native American and First Nations peoples. It involves calling in the spirits of the seven directions (earth, sky, and centre are the other three) with the use of the smoke of the sacred sage plant.

I put an egg-sized amount of dried sage leaves into a seashell bowl, and lit different spots with a wooden match. I blew on the embers to help the leaves burn. When the sage was smoking nicely, there in my kitchen, I began by greeting the spirits of the east and asking them to be with me in the ceremony. I named a few of the qualities of the east direction, and offered the smoke of the sacred sage to the spirits. Then I repeated this for the other six directions. This act is called “calling in the directions” and it is often performed at the beginning of nature ceremony.

The second step is to smudge oneself with the smoke, for purification, and also to help shift consciousness into a ceremonial openness. If there is a group, the smudge bowl is usually passed clockwise around the circle, and each person smudges the parts of their body they feel moved to cleanse. I smudged my whole body from head to toe, using an eagle feather to brush the smoke over the front and back of my body.

Now I was ready to greet the owls. My plan was to drive to the North Shore, and run through the woods until I came to the place where the owls lived. Since I would be running, I didn’t want to bring all the gear to do the smudging in the woods. But I will tell you, this is the first time I’ve done a ceremony in stages like this. Which is a teaching about ceremony: it is creative, flexible, and responsive to circumstances! Before I left the house, I did tuck a few items for the ceremony into the pockets of my running jacket. Plus of course grabbed my driver’s license and cell phone in case of emergency! I had another ceremonial object waiting in the car, which I would carry while I ran…

I drove over to the North Shore, taking the route up Lynn Valley Road rather than Lillooet Road because I knew I wouldn’t be finished before the gates at the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve were locked. It was getting near dusk already. I parked near the trail that crossed Lynn Creek, and ran through the woods until I reached the place where I had the two owl encounters. I had noted well the tall dead tree that the owls had perched on during both encounters, beside a small creek at a bend in the path. I’ve been on this trail hundreds of times, so it was easy to find the spot again. From their behaviour, I believe this tree marked the edge of the great grey owls’ territory. 

I have to tell you, I felt somewhat fearful that the owls would appear during the ceremony, and perhaps attack my poor head again.  I even wore my glasses while running (something I never do) so that I would be able to see them better if they appeared. So I was on the alert for their presence, and performed the ceremony rather more quickly than I might have otherwise.

I carefully climbed down the steep bank in the semi-darkness to a very wide root that was at the base of the owl-tree. Following my wise guide’s suggestion, I had brought a bouquet of flowers for the owls, which I tucked behind the root so they stood up nicely. Then I took out a small pyrex bowl and placed it on the wide root. I filled the bowl with a mixture of sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and sesame seeds. I blessed the spot with my hands using Reiki. Then I climbed back up onto the path.

Whew! No sign of the owls yet. But I was sure that they were aware of my presence. I faced downhill, into their territory, and addressed the owls quite loudly. I figured it was unlikely anyone would come along the path since it was almost dark, and the creek was bubbling away at high volume, so my voice was drowned out anyway. But I trusted that the owls would hear what I had to say.

First I thanked them for the blessing of the encounters I had with them, and told them that I had meant no harm. I expressed my appreciation for the learning I have received, and told them I heard their message that they and the other wild creatures need wild places to live in. That people are encroaching too much, and not leaving them the room they need to thrive. I expressed my intention to help protect the wild creatures and wild places. I also explained about the offerings I had brought; the red and yellow of the tulips represented the red strength of the owls and my golden joy at meeting them, combined together into a single flower. The seeds I confessed I didn’t think they would eat, although some birds do eat seeds. But perhaps their favourite prey, the vole, would eat the seeds. Thus my hope was to nourish the creatures that would feed them. I wasn’t about to bring some voles or mice as an offering! (But I didn’t say that.)

After I had said everything I could think of to the owls, I blessed the land and all the creatures who live there, again using Reiki. I bowed, rose, and then turned and headed back up the path. An interesting thing happened as I was driving home. It was now dark, and all the tail lights, head lights, and traffic lights appeared as bursts of colour. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw that my pupils were very dilated, like the eyes of the owl! It just so happened that I had an eye exam earlier that day, and my pupils were dilated from the drops the optometrist gave me. But it seemed fitting that I was now seeing through the eyes of the owl!

The final step of the ceremony was to close it where I had opened it, in the kitchen. I held the eagle feather up, faced east, and thanked all the spirits for being with me in the ceremony. Then I scattered the ashes of the sage on the wind.

I performed this ceremony on Wednesday. Saturday morning, an email from the Green Party arrived in my inbox. It was a call for volunteers to fill three roles in the party leadership, including Publications Chair. Wow! A role I am completely qualified to perform, right now, with my existing skills and life experiences. I went to the Green Party website to have a look at their policies and documentation, and my heart sang as I reviewed their 10 Core Principles. They include sustainability, ecological wisdom, social justice, respect for diversity, non-violence, and participatory democracy! My prayer for the right work I can do to help protect the wild ones has been answered! And I don’t even have to go to law school for three years! 🙂 I think this is strong medicine. Maybe it’s owl medicine.

Photo Credit: Image Copyright Christopher Dodds, used with kind permission. All Rights Reserved. See other examples of Chris’s beautiful work at Chris Dodds Photo

Part 3: Seeking understanding and the wisdom of the owl

These encounters with the owls prompted me to do some research toGreat grey owl learn more about them. A great resource I found online is The Owl Pages. I also consulted Ted Andrews’ Animal Speak, as always.

I learned that the great grey owl (gray to you American readers) is the provincial bird emblem of Manitoba. According to The Owl Pages, they are known to be very aggressive near their nest, and have driven off predators as large as black bears! I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad. They are one of the largest owls in the world, though the ones I saw were not as large as they can get: 28″ tall with a wingspan of 56″! Evidently they have lived to 40 years of age in captivity. No wonder there is a saying about the wise old owl!

These sources of information are helpful in extracting meaning from the experience, but the deepest meaning must come from within…

What does this have to do with my indigenous soul?

The day after the owl struck me there were scabs on my head. The owl had definitely permeated my physical boundary and entered into my body. I wished I had a wise teacher I could tell the story to, who could tell me what this meant. I wished I was in apprenticeship with a medicine woman or man who would guide and teach me. How can I be the guide, and the one whom others turn to for guidance, when I know so little? I have learned from many wise teachers, and I could have called on one of them to talk about what happened. If fact, I did have the opportunity to do this some weeks later. But at the time of the event, I wished to be part of a community where my medicine teacher was nearby. I have idealized the times when our peoples lived in smaller groups, in communities of people with elders to turn to, and a shaman or medicine woman for counsel, and where each of us had our role or place in the community. I think this desire to live in a close, small community is part of the remembrance of my indigenous soul of an earlier time when we did live together in harmony with the land. It is part of the pleasure of meeting in groups to go on the vision quest. It is a re-creation of how we used to live, and it always feels so right.

And so it is with my loneliness for connection with the animal world. I believe this is an expression of my indigenous soul as well. We grew up and evolved together with the animals. The way we live in now, in a planet shaped by 10,000 years of agriculture, forestry, and domination over the natural world, has made the animals afraid of us. Contact with animals is a gift I have been fortunate to experience many times on vision quests. And occasionally on runs through the woods, as I have described here. My indigenous soul knows that this encounter had meaning and significance. Maybe my indigenous soul even knows what the meaning is. However, my city self, ego self, Karen-in-the-world struggles to find her way to that deeper place that knows the truth about messages from wild creatures.

When I am out on a vision quest, or during those periods of time when I have lived in the wilderness, it is not so hard to know that deeper place. It is much more difficult in the city, in the midst of the daily concerns and pressures of earning a living and meeting responsibilities. It is hard to quiet and slow down enough to tune into the still place of my indigenous soul. But more than this everyday difficulty, when that owl hit me in the head, it reminded me of my father hitting me in the head when I was a child. It was a shock, and I dare say reactivated early trauma. The feeling of betrayal that nature would treat me this way was extremely upsetting and shook my whole view of the natural world as my friend, my safe place, the place that cared about me. It shook my faith in my indigenous soul. It has been hard to find my way back.

The wisdom of the owl

My medicine teacher, when I had the opportunity to talk with her in California a few weeks later, said that the owl put its medicine right in me by striking me on the head like that. This is what I wanted to hear. That there was something good about what had happened. That it meant I was special. This is the truth of the indigenous soul, surely? The message that owl has for me? That I am wise like the owl, have keen hearing, can pierce into the depths of people’s souls and true intentions? This is the kind of meaning I have sought from nature; to know myself and my strengths more accurately.

But you know, I don’t think this is the meaning of the owl encounters. The shock of being struck has kept me from running in that lush green place that was my favourite place to go. There is a learning here about respect. Respect for the wild animals and their ways. Respect for the vast force of nature. Though I am a small part of it, it is not all about me. There are large and mysterious processes at work of which I know little. Perhaps some humbleness is in order. A creature weighing only four pounds scared the indigenous soul right out of me! That should teach me something about respect. Clearly it’s not an either-or proposition of fear or oneness. But a call to a larger view that includes a healthy respect, a wiser understanding of the wild ones, and the oneness too.

At the beginning of this story I was wrapped up in who should do the cooking, and it seemed like a life-or-death question. The owls thought I was a threat to them, and their defensive maneuvers were in response to a perception of a life-or-death situation. I think we were both wrong! In the larger view I can take now, several months later, I think the life-or-death situation is a much bigger one, in which our animal friends are being forced off the planet through human expansion and exploitation. I feel the call to my indigenous soul to bring all of my resources to bear in doing what I can to protect them. I am being called to be much bigger than I ever thought I could. I am considering studying environmental law so that I will have the power and knowledge to do something more concrete to help. May I keep hearing the call of my indigenous soul, and discover the best way that I can help my animal kin. May we all. Continued here…

Photo © Rossano Russo, displayed on The Owl Pages. Used with permission.

The White Mouse of the Klondike

Reporting back to you after completing the Klondike Road Relay last weekend, I have to say it was an amazing experience, an awesome race, and a great trip to the great white north.

Camino Klondike Relay team, with the Yukon River behind usMy leg of the race (leg 4 of 10) began at the Canada Customs border between Alaska and BC. Just as Gordon finished leg 3 and handed off to me, a camper drove up blasting music. Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” started me off in the right spirit! As I passed the parking lot and entered the darkness, I saw a White Mouse cross the road in front of me. This was a very good omen.

In World War II, Nancy Wake was an allied spy known as the White Mouse. She performed all kinds of heroic feats, including riding a bicycle for 500 KM over a three day period to re-establish a coded wireless communication network which was essential for the allied cause. What an inspiring beginning to my run! If only I had such an important role to play in life.

But for this journey, the goal was to run the distance for my team, and not let them down. This was my first relay race since I was a teenager, and I found that the motivation of meeting the time I had set so that I didn’t let down my team mates was a strong motivation indeed. Plus, the support vehicle following a few dozen metres behind me made me feel like a superstar sports athlete. Any time I needed water, they’d pull up beside me and hand it to me, and ask if there was anything else I needed. What star treatment!

I had a great run, running really hard, pushing myself at about 95% capacity the whole time. There were no kilometre markers, so I didn’t know whether I was keeping the pace I had promised. But 8 KM into the leg I crossed a railroad track. My time was 46:45, well under 48:00 minutes or the 6 minute/KM pace I had predicted. Once I knew I was on track, I relaxed a little, and really got into the rhythm of the running.

There were a few moments of bliss on the run, in the dark, on a mysterious high mountain pass in the north of the world. I could see radiant light in the darkness, and knew that this was a place I could leave behind a burden I was carrying. I let it slide off my shoulders, up there on that mountain pass, and I swear I returned home without that burden.

So the race was terrific, and so was the entire trip to Whitehorse. I met an artist named Joyce Majiski, and purchased one of her amazing paintings of caribou, called Blue Bou. I met a Juno-nominated singer-songwriter, Anne Louise Genest (of the band Annie Lou), and found out we have friends and acquaintances in common. She told me about a book her sister, another Whitehorse resident, had just published (The Boreal Gourmet: Adventures in Northern Cooking, by Michele Genest). I bought two copies at Mac’s Fireweed Books. By the way, there was a field of spiky magenta fireweed beside the road where my leg ended!

The area around Whitehorse was in glorious fall colour. After a super-fun dance party Saturday night, some of my team went for an 8:00 AM run along the Yukon River Sunday morning. I swear I’ve never run that soon after a race before, but it felt amazing.

The final wonderful gift of the trip was learning about a writer’s residential retreat at Berton House in Dawson City, 500 KM further north than Whitehorse. I know the north is calling to me. I harken to the call. I spent the better part of today putting together my application for a 3-month stay at the Berton House. Wish me luck!

Klondike here I come!

The time has come! I leave for the airport in an hour, to fly up to the beautifulThe post-swim ChiRunners Whitehorse, YT, for the Klondike Road Relay! I told you before about my aggressive 10-week training schedule. As you might expect, I stuck to the schedule like glue for the first five weeks, culminating with a 2-hour run on August 8. Then I was at Monkey Valley for a week and the training fell apart. But I feel good to go, and well rested.

I’m so excited about seeing Whitehorse again. I was there 10 years ago, and also 20 years ago. I’ve got a hankering for the wild open spaces of the north, and would love to be graced with a vision of the aurora borealis. Plus, my friend Gordon put together a great team and lots of fun activities for us, including a helicopter tour and a visit to the local hotsprings! To be continued…

Here, for those of you who are interested, is an accounting of my endorphin rush experiment, from July 4 to August 8!

Endorphin rush experiment

July 4, 93: In a good mood before. Ran from 6:21 PM on. 3 choc bar day. At end of run felt like I can do anything, can definitely do the half, equanimous, euphoric. It’s okay if MV sells, or if it doesn’t sell. Maybe offer VF for free or lower price? It seems everything that might happen in life I can handle, and enjoy. Felt the green trees a lot, sensed a clean freshness in my chest. Quite a lot of energy (even though ran > 1 hr previous 2 days). When tired, used ChiRunning to feel a lightness (eyes ahead, back long, below waist loose, legs kicking up behind).

July 6, 68: At 21 minutes felt like I’d had a great day, even though I’d been irritated a lot of the day. At 27 minutes felt like I need to do this every day. Saw a wolf, I think. Had a half-dip in the river. Didn’t feel so cheerful when I had a bug in each eye and had probably swallowed more than I’d spit out. But ended feeling great, hill no problem, felt strong and alive. Thought some about work. Wondered about VF and if the guy will cancel & does that mean I should forget this type of work?

July 7, 60: Felt strong & fast. Worked 11 hours, then ran to bank to cash royalty cheque. Contract will be renewed for 6 more months! So felt very happy to begin with, and that lasted the whole run. A few moments of tiredness, but mostly fast & strong. I think running more these past few days increases the overall happiness. Plus sunny days last 2 days. And the blessings of Jupiter flowing as the new moon solar eclipse draws near. So endorphins there by about 12 minutes, and felt great. Still feel great!

July 8, 73: Weird day, didn’t flow exactly smoothly, but pretty good feeling/equanimity. Wanted to run longer (not turn back). No real high moments. Helped a cyclist who had run out of water. Gave water, reassurance, directions. He wanted to know he would be okay. Dip in the river again. I loved the green of the forest, and the cool. I felt glad to be there when someone needed help. Now I feel quiet.

July 10, 1:47: Felt strong in second half of the run. Loved the run, but no real highs on it. Amazing inquiry earlier in the day, and maybe feeling disjoint of regular life after that. Also eclipse looming. Had dip in the river. Loved the green of the trees and plants—felt I was absorbing the green like chlorophyll absorbs light, through my pores and eyes and heart. And running on the earth. It feels so healing, soothing, necessary. The green felt especially soothing. Pretty quiet now. Squirrel chatted with me by top tree.

July 11, 54:00: Somewhat tired and slow muscles this run, but loved being out in the forest, the green, the quiet. Asked for the second time for bugs to be protected from dying on me or flying into my eyes, mouth, nose, and ears. It worked again. Saw a swallow bug-catching along the river: look up swallow and squirrel. Reminded me of the medicine walk day when I saw the swallow. They are providing a fish egg-laying spot by there now; they’ve put branches across the path, gravel in the water, created a by-way with rocks. So no huge endorphin rush, but a definite quiet enjoyment and a feeling of irritation dropping away. After: pleasure, satisfaction at meeting my running goals for the week. Loving running 5 days a week again. It feels right.

July 13, 60:00: Ran at Jericho after private session with Carole. Felt very irritated. Way too many people. The sand wasn’t right so I had to run on the path. I felt tired and heavy a lot of the run. Endorphin rush made head tingle at 42 & 48 minutes. After I was glad I’d done it & kept my commitment to myself. Then wonderful inquiry.

July 14, 63:00: Very hard day, PMS probably, but teary, feeling no one cares about how I feel or what I want. My agent was attacking in a phone conversation. I cried a bit at work today. Also helped search for a missing boy and spoke to the man who works at the Lions building across the street (subsidized housing). So real mixed day, up and down, emotional. The run was so soothing, to be in the green forest and the cool. I cried on the run too. At about 43 min. felt the endorphin high—it felt so good to be running and I was sorry it was going to end soon. Stopped by a huge ancient tree on the path up, and greeted grandmother or grandfather, didn’t ask for anything specific but did ask for help and maybe holding. I could feel the giant presence around me. It was a pale green, the colour of the lichen. So overall I have to say it was a good run, healing. Afterward felt quite energized. Now 10PM and time for dinner.

July 15, 72:00: Had a great day, sorted out parking, on a high at work. Felt tons of energy while running, wanted to keep going. At 53 min. was sorry run was ending. At end still felt lots of energy, and altered state after as I walked it out. Only downside was mind very active much of the time. But felt strong & fast. Had a fun encounter with 2 cyclists. Saw a black vole run across the path!

July 17, 53:00: Great day, felt a lot of energy at first on the run (8:00 to the gate), loved soaking up the green again. Some time-watching, but at around 23 min. got into the groove. No problems with the distance.

July 18, 1:43:00: Felt quite tired in my legs for much of the run, didn’t eat enough good nutrition during the day. Also the hard training schedule catching up. But on the return half, gentle downhill, my energy picked up. No real euphoric moments while running. Did a ritual 12 minutes from the end, at my spot by the river. 10 minutes, greeted the 7 directions, buried the cheque from the faster who cancelled, (torn up) and planted the seed of guidance about how I am to help protect the earth. Thanked the 7 directions, and the run up the hill was quite easy. I was refreshed by the ritual and connecting with the directions. At the top of the hill in the parking lot, I heard a thrashing in the bushes. There was a reddish-brown body, and I thought it must be a dog, but then a beautiful little deer came out of the woods. She was a little timid, but not too afraid, and lifted her legs delicately as she walked across the parking lot. I spoke to her, thanking her, telling her I wouldn’t hurt her, honouring her preciousness. Deer can be a gentle beckoning to new adventure. It seemed this was the message from the spirits in response to my little ceremony. So a beautiful heartful ending to the run. I think it was this run that I thought about going to New York for my birthday.

July 20, 64:00: Great run, began feeling high at 17 minutes, and this continued throughout. Fell and got scrapes on hand, arm, right knee, but even this was not a downer. Loved the green. Went in the river. Explored a new spot. Felt all is right in the world. This continued after as well. Thought about asking Darch up for Saturday. Turned out he had emailed me earlier in the day about coming up to help!

July 23, 87:00: Ran with Darch at Monkey Valley. Lots of fun running together. Didn’t notice the euphoria but felt great to be out early in the morning running.

Angela teaches ChiRunning in the forestJuly 24, 42:00: Ran with the ChiRunning group. Angela, Darch, Lorinda, two others. It was great to see a group of people out running on these logging roads. Unfortunately I was much slower than them, so worried they would not know where to turn and didn’t like being last like that. Ashley twisted her ankle during the run. But loved the long up hill, the heat, having people to run with.

July 27, 62:00: Tired on run.

July 28, 80:00: Tired on run; began doing heel lifts, and the uphill cross-legged running.

July 29, 55:00: Pretty tired throughout run; did the heel lifts again; brought more lightness into the run.

July 30, 47:35: Very tired throughout run, very slow (morning run); I could feel the head tingling sometime after 40 minutes, but this endorphin release wasn’t strong enough to bring energy into my legs; there was a horrible vomit smell on part of the run, almost unbearable; ran to the bank and then along Wall, mood good in spite of tiredness; a little worry that it’s too much of a strain, I might injure myself, I won’t be able to keep up this training pace – basically, this week I was still exhausted from the ChiRunning & Yoga retreat, I still haven’t caught up on sleep, also hard to function well at work. This retreat took a major toll, though in the grand scheme of things it’s not a big deal.

July 31, 60:00: Wonderful run, spoke to mom on trail, green, energized, went 15 minutes past scheduled run. Very glad to be back on track and to have an energized run. Big challenge now is long run Sunday & 2 intense weeks of training.

4 Week Summary: Have completed first 4 weeks, doing minimum and usually more. First time ever that I’ve kept to the schedule so precisely. Very happy about this.

August 1, 1:52:00: The distance felt like no trouble at all. Found a trail at the end of the side road, and wanted to go farther to see where it went. Very slight twitch in left hip, tiredness at 1:20:00. But really the time was over before I knew it. No huge highs, but pleasant run, followed by dinner with Patricia at my house.

August 3, 67:30: Felt very tired on this run. Worried I won’t be able to complete the training, that I’ll be too tired, maybe get injured. So ran slow. Had a dip in the river. Very hard doing the uphill at the end.

August 4, 90:00: Great day, great run. Very energized internally, though my legs felt tired and slow at first. Wanted to stop thinking and just be, enjoy the beauty of the forest, and did quite a lot. On the uphill return two great grey owls visited with me for about 10 minutes. Silent flight, but noise hopping from a branch to a lower branch, and once or twice noise opening their wings. One time I looked at one and the other one flew away without me hearing a thing. But they seemed interested in me, flew to nearer branches, both looked at me. They also both flew at each other and dislocated the roosting one from a branch. It was such a wonderful gift!

Aug. 5, 67:00: My legs felt very tired during the run. This disappeared at about the half-way point. Dip in the river on the way back. I had a moment on the return of being without ego and feeling afraid, even as I felt excited to see how reality might appear without the ego veils. So it was scary but exhilarating, I wanted to continue this. On the trail up I had another encounter with the two owls. One hit me on the head, very forcefully. It hurt a lot and made me cry, especially because I had been honouring the owls, thanking them for their presence. It felt like a betrayal, and shook my view of reality, esp. of nature being kind and of me having a special relationship with the earth. I wrote about it in my blog. Read Medicine Card and Animal Speak. Deception being revealed? Angela thought new beginnings.

Aug. 7, cycled 55:00: First running equivalent. Went mountain biking with Darch. It’s very hard and scary!

Aug. 8, 2:01:00: Ran with Darch all around Merritt and along the two rivers. Pace a bit fast, beautiful to see new scenery. Fun to run with a friend. It sure helped to keep going the whole distance. Didn’t notice any marked endorphin rush. But after run felt great.

Conclusion about endorphin highs: They are not noticeable during every run, but are often there. They can start as early as 17 minutes, but usually don’t hit until about 40+ minutes. This could be because I have built up a certain level of fitness, so for newer runners, where the effort is strong, the endorphins might kick in sooner. For me I think it has always been that they kick in after a longer amount of activity. Quality of the day and my mood before the run sometimes affects the mood of the run too, but often the run turns around a cranky mood. Anyway, I’m glad I do it, whether its a good run or a bad run! Also noticeable in this experiment is how enriching running in nature is for me. Note this well, couch dwellers!

Photos by Joe Charron. Used with permission.

Part 2: Aggressive owl clouts runner on the head

Great grey owl, photographer Chris DoddsWell, after my magical experience on Wednesday night, I was quite looking forward to my run Thursday night, hoping to see the great grey owls again. On the way down the trail, I didn’t see them, but I thought it was still too early. It wasn’t quite dusk yet. On the way back, sure enough, as I neared the same spot where I had seen the owls Wednesday night, suddenly an owl flew over my head, landing on a branch nearby.

I stopped, and bowed to the owl, thanking it for coming to visit me again. I opened my awareness to pure consciousness, wanting to sense the field of the owl and listen for anything it might be wanting to tell me. After a few moments, I heard a sound behind me. I turned to look, and the second owl was there, on a branch about the height of my head, only about six feet away. What a gift, to have the owls trust me and come so close!

When I turned back to look at the first owl, it was gone, but suddenly it swooped over my head again. I remembered stories about great grey owls that I’ve heard from friends recently, and recalled that they can be aggressive, even knocking peoples’ hats off their head. It occurred to me that maybe the owl was telling me to hit the road, that I was too close to the nest or something. I said this to the owls, that I would continue on my way, and turned to continue running up the path. Next thing I knew, one of the owls had struck me very forcefully on the top of my head. Ouch! What a shock! It was a forceful blow, quite amazing considering these owls only weigh about four pounds.

Okay, okay, I get the message, I’m leaving! I thought. I continued to run up the path, and one of the owls swooped very close to my head again, though it didn’t strike me this time. It continued swooping in loops alongside me a few more times, until I came to the same bend in the road as the previous night. There the two owls perched, and watched as I left their territory. I paused to say goodbye, voicing the fact that I didn’t much like being struck that way, but still appreciated their presence.

As I continued up the next bit of trail, the full impact of what had happened sunk in. I began to cry as I ran. My head hurt, but what hurt more was my heart. I had been so open to the presence of the birds, feeling like it was a gift. I thought I was special, and that the encounter was proof that I have some kind of special connection with nature. I have longed for closeness with wild creatures, and the night before it had seemed this was what was happening. And also it had seemed a clear answer to a question I was holding. In previous times, when people were closer to the land, the land and her creatures were ensouled with meaning, and such encounters had significance. I had sought this significance myself, but in feeling physically hurt, it seemed all of this was wiped away. I was just a fool on a run, blundering through an owl’s territory, unwelcome. All of this wounded my pride, my identity, shook up my view of reality.

Suddenly I had more sympathy for people who feel frightened of nature. Perhaps this is what was most upsetting about the encounter (and also the gift, to understand how others feel). I have always felt nature is a friendly place, or at worst neutral. But it’s a place I have felt safe, and have trusted. This encounter shook that trust. I don’t know yet the full impact on me. To be continued…

Photo Credit: Image Copyright Christopher Dodds, used with kind permission. All Rights Reserved. See other examples of Chris’s beautiful work at Chris Dodds Photo

Klondike Road Relay: The madness continues!

Well, folks, I’ve signed up for the running adventure of a lifetime! My friend Gordon sponsors a team for the Klondike Road Relay, and he has invited me to join the team this year. The race takes place on September 10 – 11, beginning at 7 PM in Skagway, Alaska, and finishing some 20 hours later in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory! The race covers 176.5 KM, with 10 legs varying from 9 to 25.6 KM. Teams can vary from 6 to 10 members.

Klondike trail back in the gold rush daysI will be running leg 4 of the race, which is 21 KM long. This leg will begin at about 1:00 AM at the Canada Customs post between Alaska and BC, and will finish at Tutshi Lake. Gordon ran this leg last year (he’s run 8 of the 10 legs so far), and said it’s mostly downhill. Uh huh! Well, sounds good to me. There’s nothing like running through the wilderness in the dark!

This relay race has been going since 1982, with a really big turnout in 1998, the centennial of the Gold Rush Stampede. In 1998 there were 161 teams. Unlike in the actual stampede, we will not be required to run with 1,000 pounds of gear on our back!

There’s 10 weeks until the race, and I’ve prepared a great training schedule for myself. My sister Kim, who is doing a master’s degree in psychology, suggested I conduct a single-subject study on endorphin release during distance running. So I will be keeping track of how happy I feel as this training progresses! Yes, running can lead to an altered state, which is why a lot of us do it. (Plus we get to eat all the chocolate we want!) I’ll keep you posted.

Blown away by my own incredibleness

Race bib with timing chip on the backHow’s that for a brag! I think this time I have earned the right to boast. I’m 44 years old. I smoked very heavily for 25 of those years. I never thought I would beat the 1-hour mark for a 10K run. And my time last night on the Longest Day Run was 55:50! Oh My God!!! Valley Girl squeals!!!

I wasn’t trying that hard. I started slow, trying to keep to a comfortable pace. I positioned myself up near the front, so I wouldn’t have the problem of having to pass people constantly. Instead, for the first minute or two people were passing me. But this was a totally different race than the international event of the Vancouver marathon. It had a grassroots, community feel, and the numbers of people were much lower. So I didn’t have the same issue with being crowded. Most of the course was very spacious, except for one short bit where the width was just two runners wide. Anyway, trying to go slow, I found that my time for the first 1K was 5:45. Not slow! (For someone who has a 7 minute per KM training pace, and a half-marathon pace of 6 minutes per KM.)

As the kilometres ticked out I noticed that I was sustaining a pace that was well under 6 minutes, which meant that unless something unforeseen happened, I was going to beat the 1 hour mark. I guess this kept my effort strong. I was pushing myself beyond a comfortable pace, it’s true, but also enjoying the beauty of the sunshine, the sky, and the UBC campus. I felt kindly towards my fellow runners, for the most part. Much less reactivity than in the last race. (One incident, which I will relate soon, was an exception to this!)

In the second half of a race I always feel more confident, as I’ve made it halfway and know I can do the same again. Since I was already running so strongly there wasn’t as much room to increase my pace in the second half, but I started using the focuses I’d learned at Angela’s ChiRunning workshop. Lifting my feet to kick them up behind, feeling a lightness and looseness in my stride (a smooth-moving organism, with no hitches or glitches, just effortless freedom of movement). I also used the eyes-ahead focus, looking on runners ahead of me rather than at the ground. And strangely enough, this drew me forward to pass the runners ahead, over and over… At one point an eagle soared overhead, and that really seemed a blessing.

After I passed the 8KM mark I decided to hold nothing back, and ran even faster. I was right at that threshold of anaerobic activity, where I was working harder and using more oxygen than my body could take in. I love playing at that edge. And I must say, race time is the only time I get the chance to do it, as I can never run this fast when I’m on my own. A gift of the race, definitely. So for the last two kilometres I was really running hard, and then, I had my little moment of reactivity. Gliding along the sidewalk in that effortless smooth way, with other runners sparsely situated ahead and behind, someone from the 5K race (identified as such by a different bib colour) was walking up the race path in the opposite direction from the race. There was plenty of room on the grass beside the sidewalk, and room all around, so why was this guy walking on the racecourse? It felt like a disruption in the flow, and a lack of respect for the racers (and me in particular!), and it pissed me off.

As I passed him I couldn’t contain myself and I said “Arrogant prick.” I heard two women nearby snicker a bit. I felt a boost of adrenaline flood my body, and I was off, running even faster than before! At this point I was only a few hundred metres from the finish line, though I didn’t know it as I had missed seeing the 9K marker. I just let the extra energy move me on, speculating as I did so whether this was a positive thing or not. In that moment it felt pretty fucking good, let me tell you!

I came around a corner and heard the announcer and saw the finish line ahead. I could hear two women coming up behind me, and I just didn’t want to let them pass me. So I ran even harder, and discovered the incredible blessing of a grassy lane as the final stretch, right through the finish line. Wow! Running on the green earth. I gave everything I had, and I could see the time on the clock at the finish line as I got closer. It was 55 something! I pushed even harder, and I couldn’t help but say “Holy Shit!” as I ran under the Finish banner and saw that my time was under 56 minutes. Oh my god!!

I almost fainted from lack of oxygen, so walked around the big green grassy field for a while, getting my breath back and feeling the euphoria of knowing I’d done something I’d never thought I could do. What a great race! I loved everyone who was in it, and all the people who volunteered and put it on.

I usually like to leave right after a race, but this time I stayed. I talked to some other runners, and did my post-race yoga in the big grassy field. Then I partook of the amazing feast that the North Shore Credit Union and race organizers had put out. Beautiful fresh strawberries and watermelon, veggies, hot dogs and burgers, chips and cookies. People sat on the grass to eat, and cheered as the announcements were made about the race results. I sat on the grass and ate the food and enjoyed the bonhomie of this celebration of running, community, and the longest day of the year. Wonderful!

One added benefit of organized road races is that they always raise money for a worthy cause. This time it was to fund research for a cure for Juvenile Diabetes. So that’s another reason to feel good about doing this crazy thing called racing. I also wanted to mention to you the innovation in timing chips. The last few half-marathons I was in, the timing chips were disposable, which meant race volunteers didn’t need to cut the chip from our shoes and put them in a bucket. This time, the timing chip was built right into the race bib! It is amazing to consider that 10,000 years ago, humans were living a hunter-gatherer-fisher lifestyle. And now, this! Isn’t this world a strange and marvellous place? 😉

Six days to the Vancouver Half!

Spring is here, with several cougar emails in my mailbox, fresh blossom scent in theSpaciousness of water, mountain, sky air, and runners gearing up for the Vancouver Marathon and Half Marathon, as well as the Sun Run after that. I had a couple delicious runs in the cool spacious air of early evening this weekend—one along the river, running in the fresh mountain air, and one along the Burrard Inlet. The gap in mountains at the right side of the photo (taken from my back deck) shows where I run north into the mountains along a trail beside the Seymour River.

The spaciousness and cool air of the runs reminds me of what Chogyam Trungpa calls stepping out of the musty, familiar cocoon. The familiar patterns of behaviour and familiar sense of self that comprise the ego can feel very comfortable and cozy, but there is a staleness to the cocoon. Now that spring is here I invite you to step out of the cocoon, if only for a few minutes. Let your thoughts quiet for a moment and sense the cool expansive spaciousness that is all through and around your head. Try one new thing, or an old thing in a new way, and taste the freshness that awaits us all outside of the cocoon!

Kath running and pre-emptive forgiveness

The kath is the belly centre, also known as the hara (in some Buddhist traditions) and Post-run yoga viewthe don tien (in martial arts) or dantien. In the Diamond Approach we use the term kath, and one of the foundational practices is the kath meditation. The kath centre is also known as the moving centre, so on my run in the mountains by the Seymour River yesterday, I experimented with doing the kath meditation while running. Running is definitely a form of movement!

A while ago on a vision fast in Colorado, Ann Debaldo, a student of the Diamond Approach and apprentice on that vision fast, told me that focusing on the kath would help my feet find their way in the dark. I have certainly found this to be true on night runs when I can’t see the path. But yesterday I tried it in broad daylight, and what a revelation! First, I could see so much more of my surroundings by looking straight ahead rather than at the path. My eyes and soul could take in the magnificent greenness of the forest and the purity and freshness of the snowy mountain peaks ahead. Also, by focusing on the kath, my mind was much more still, which meant I could absorb the impact of the surroundings more. This is what I long for when I run in the forest; to be impacted by the beauty of nature, and have that freshness enliven the dead, stale spaces of my soul that get trapped in endless dry thought patterns. It was so refreshing!

And finally, I find it very difficult to rest in the kath centre when I do my sitting meditation each morning. But resting in the kath while running was very easy! I felt a fullness there, like a thick liquid, resilient and substantial. It actually seemed motionless, though my body was in movement. It was a wonderful way to experience the kath. And my feet did indeed find their way, over stones and sticks, potholes and lumps, with speed and agility. I recommend that you try this the next time you go for a run. Just bring your awareness into your belly, below the belly button. And keep bringing it back there when the mind wanders away. I’d love to hear about your experience after you’ve tried it!

By the way, the other thing that I did was to keep my eyes focused straight ahead or looking around at the mountains, trees, and river, rather than on the path. Keeping the eyes focused straight ahead is one of the techniques of ChiRunning. Angela James told me that she had one of her best race times ever when she focused on this technique. If you are interested in learning more about ChiRunning, check out the ChiRunning and yoga retreat at Monkey Valley in July!

And finally, I want to mention an interesting idea I came across in the Winter 2009 issue of Circles on the Mountain, the publication of the Wilderness Guides Council. The Hawaiian Maoli people have an ideal of Mihikala—the act of giving and receiving forgiveness before it is needed. Imagine the freedom of being able to forgive someone, rather than get upset, even before they do the thing that would upset you! The longing for freedom from reactivity is very strong in me these days, so this idea has much appeal. I will try to practice it on the other drivers during the drive in to work this morning!