Yesterday was the first day that felt of winter–endless grey and a buffeting wind that pushed against the windows, bowing them in groaning rhythms. Dry leaves flew and tumbled across the road like small brown animals scurrying for the shelter of ditches where they huddled, hunched and trembling.

I, too, hunched against the bluster, driving my neck into my coat collar, my eyes not ready to acknowledge this new season.

Still, within this brutal day, a moment of beauty: driving into campus, my car aimed at the eastern horizon, clouds clustered at the edge of earth like a blue mountain range. Above this craggy line, the sky glowed yellow in a thin band, bordered above by a dense metal grey lid of cloud, clamped down upon dawn. Dawn, however, would not be contained: it simmered and spilled from the lip of the cauldron that tried to suppress morning. Within minutes, light boiled into the grey, throwing off the lid, leaking sun.

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Indiana Autumn


In Indiana, autumn is short, and sweeter because of its brevity. Already by mid-October, the days are dramatically shortened, and dusk creeps in by seven. It is close to that time now, and the sky is an even gray, mottled with clouds, though it is not yet darkening. The brittle leaves on the trees stir and clatter in the breeze, which feels chill though I sit in long sleeves and pants. It is a restful evening, though, with nothing in front of me for the next twenty-four hours but roaming the woods, writing, reading, thinking.

Today I feel a bit like the mixed mood of autumn–on one level, I feel alive and invigorated, receptive to beauty, attentive to detail, celebrating as the trees are in their moment of unusual splendor, and at another level I feel wistful and subdued, not melancholy exactly, but mellow and languorous. Languorous. A good word for what I want this weekend to be.

Tonight I will write or read until the sky provides too little light. Then sleep will be a welcome thing, a more concentrated languor. Tomorrow I will, as Thoreau said, saunter in the woods, not making time, which is my usual mode, but ambling, stretching out the walk into its longest extension, stopping to watch yellow leaves sift between trees, to attend to the crackle of leaves underfoot, to look up past this shallow canopy into depthless blue, where God is. I’ll stop to spread out my blanket, lying on it to catch a different angle than my vertical self usually doesn’t pause for, and I will preserve it like pressed flowers in my notebook to savor later–“the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion, recollected in tranquility.”  The poetry of languor, saving these days for days that have none, when I need reminded that all this, all I need, is still out there available, waiting until I can experience it again.

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Cruising at 56; or, How She Attempts to Rage Against the Dying of the Flight


I have run 14 half marathons in a span of 12 years. Each training cycle moves me out of my comfortable routine of regular five milers, prodding me to go further and faster. But though several of my training cycles–especially the one that preceded my one and only marathon–were more difficult in terms of mileage accumulated and even speed attained, none were as demanding as the training I put in for the half marathon I ran this past weekend.

What made the difference? Fifty-five and fifty-six. The steep drop off I experienced in my speed, endurance, and ability to bounce back from workouts was unexpected. At age fifty-one, I was actually increasing in all these areas, running longer and harder and recording my best speeds. With no change in the number or frequency of my workouts, however, when I hit fifty-five I not only could no longer maintain my levels, as I could from age 52-54, but I was working just as hard to run thirty seconds slower per mile.

Ok. So I get that this happens, that no former Olympian can compete with the new crop twenty years later. Well, except for Dara Torres. But she’s a freak. I had less of an issue with losing speed, because that’s never been much of a focus in my goals anyway, but it did bother me that  I was losing steadiness in my endurance. It was unbelievably harder to maintain even the slower pace over longer distances. Was it just mental softness that was responsible for my not being able to run without walk breaks even over seven miles? That was a part of it, I think, but my body quit cooperating as well. Hips were stiffer, legs felt heavier, the back of my left knee became less flexible.

Absolutely not fair, my mind raged. Shouldn’t my consistency in training, my unfaltering discipline in cranking out three to four runs a week, my annual new year’s goal of 1000 miles a year be rewarded with equally consistent results. Nope.

So I entered this training cycle mad. I would show this stupid body who was boss. I would be that woman I always claimed I’d be–the one who kept running, even if I got slower. Oddly, two nearly contradictory things happened. First, I felt more of a sense of progress than I’ve ever felt during training. Before, it was more like I adapted unproblematically to the increased mileage–it didn’t really challenge me. This time, I felt the real pain of upped mileage, the struggle in reaching for a few extra miles tacked onto my comfortable five, but near the end of the training period, I really felt improvement in the increasing adaptation to the extra miles. Yet simultaneously, this training period was fraught with more depressing, agonizing runs than I’d ever had, far more times when I felt I had to stop to walk. More runs felt like Epic Fails than Age-Calibrated Successes.

So, approaching this half marathon, my goals shifted radically. Instead of aiming for a 2:08 or better finish, the mark that said to me that I was Maintaining, Staying Steady, my goal was much more basic: Keep. Running. Don’t. Walk. The worst part, however, is that I really didn’t think I could do it. (Spoiler alert: as if you couldn’t see this coming, I did  do it, or I’d be too ashamed to write this blog entry, right? Now all you’re waiting for is the Self-Congratulations at the end.) After all, I’d never done it in training, at least over that mileage. But it was a noble goal, I thought, and I was going to try. Hopefully, the energy of the race and the presence of over 2000 competitors to urge me on would be just the impetuses that could make it happen.

But then, milling around before the race began, searching for my corral, I saw pacers with their slender sticks, sporting signs with times: 2:30. 2:20. Hmmm. Could I try for a time too? Not 2:08, certainly. Those days were gone. I’m not that stubborn. But something to work for beyond Keep. Running? 2:30 seemed a nice round number, but only 2:20 seemed a challenge. At 10.40 pace, it was depressing to think that was my new challenge, but it is what it is. So I settled in beside this loud, boisterous, encouraging group of women for whom, judging from their whooping at bystanders, encouraging shouts to the gasping runners beside them, and their ability to talk in full sentences, this pace was slumming it for them.

My goal now became two-fold. Keep. Running. and “keep a few steps in front of the pace group,” a cushion that deflated multiple times during the race, the group sometimes surging to pass me. But then the Angry Middle-Aged Woman in me kicked in, and even at mile nine, when I literally had to will each leg to move forward, I refused to let the gap widen. Nobody would give a rip if I let them slide out of sight. Just me.

As I entered the stadium for the final one-tenth (which always manages to feel like an additional mile), I was right beside the pacer, feeling pretty good about myself. Then she kicked it in. I mean seriously kicked it in (see two paragraphs back). And somehow, legs that were less than a mile ago receiving instructions from my brain in how to move, now got an Epipen of adrenaline and were racing ahead, while my brain was faltering, saying, “Wait. What’s happening?”

I crossed the line at almost exactly 2:20. When I received my results print out, I had finished in 1291st place. (Is that even a thing?) That could still be depressing. But then I looked at my age group placing: 22. Yes! So out of the 61 women aged 55-59 who, like me, were trying to stave off age and prove something to themselves by entering this race, I had been a contender. And best of all, I had Kept. Running.

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The Decline of Grandfather Oak

decayed tree–

Across the ravine, between glints of sunlight and weaving among lines of vertical trunks, a single leaf falls. Within a few seconds, another twists to the ground. As my eyes scan the space before me, I realize this is a slow, dripping shower, leaves falling like single golden drops in a green haze. It is not yet autumn, and the woods are still fully leaved, branches full of green fingers, yet these leaves begin a starry blanket for the rest that will, in a few weeks, follow.

Over the summer, some trees or huge branches from leaves have fallen. One has slid part way down the ravine head first, its roots in the air like clenched talons. Others have been caught mid-fall in the branches of still-vertical trees and their limbs hang like useless appendages, scratching at the earth. Everywhere around me, already half buried in crumpled brown leaves, are broken sticks, sheered of bark, gnarled clusters of twigs, most threaded with spider webs that materialize like dusty hammocks when the sun catches their strands.

When we first moved to this property, my four children, the oldest of whom was only eleven, dubbed one of the dying trees on the slope Grandfather Oak, their private version of Grandmother Willow, who speaks in Pocahontas. At that time, its huge trunk was mostly hollow, a rotting shell shorn of most of its upper branches, a storage space for squirrel hordes and a cubby hole into which a single child could squeeze. Years ago, it tipped under its own decomposing weight and fell shattered on its side. It became the roof to a chipmunk colony which I watched during my sabbatical, fascinated by their scurrying chases around the log, their headlong dives into unseen burrows under the crumbling mold.

Now, only shards of black trunk remain to mark the spot where my children once played. The woods has absorbed it into its skin, has nearly healed the wound created by its falling. Only this dark scab remains, and in a few years perhaps i will forget even the memories that once were erect in my mind.

I am already aging. I imagine my head swathed in grey strands of cobweb, filaments muddling my mind. Though the woods are vibrant with more shades of green than Pantone could ever envision, still all I can see today is the broken, the falling, the once-living things that have lost their grip on solidity.

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Dog Days of Autumn


Walking to my cabin today, appropriately on the first day of autumn, I picked up the first fallen leaf of the season: my favorite, a sugar maple gone golden, with bursts of red fire pulsing up the veins. If I hadn’t stooped to retrieve it, I would have been passing up a gift at my feet, just that close and that important. The trees in the woods have not yet turned, none of them, so this stray present is especially a surprise. Neither has the weather yet turned–summer is still here, though mornings are cooler, and the forecast is for more heat, so the necessary snap that will freeze the chlorophyll into its vivid hues will not come soon. I am trying to relish the seasons, both of the year and of my life, as they come instead of always wishing for the next.

I am not in the woods for even five minutes before I realize, five minutes too late, that it was more than unwise of me to allow Snickers, my dog, to range ahead of me. She pads over to my plaid blanket with her cocker spaniel ears matted with green beggar lice, even her snout and eyebrows fuzzy with a collection gleaned from forging ahead. She shakes, and her body flings a shower of them onto my blanket, one more surface to pick clean. Undeterred, she trots off through the undergrowth in aimless meanderings to collect more, her steps creating small crashes in the dried leaf cover, the sound harmonizing with the jingle of her collar’s tags. When she returns and flops onto the blanket beside me, I see she’s also managed to find the one wet spot in the creek bed, because her feet are muddied to her first leg joint.

It’s hard to be annoyed, though; she is launching into the day, exploring with an abandon tat I avoided in my careful steps down the ravine, walking parallel to the creek bed to find a crossing, the burs slipping off my nearly hairless legs. Like a kid, Snickers is in the woods, becoming part of it, taking on its green, its soil, its texture. I’m not willing to absorb it to that degree–I’m in but not of it, I lie in the middle of it. Yet Snickers’ panting expresses what I feel inside.

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At Abbey Coffee


Located in Marion, Indiana, Abbey Coffee is my new favorite coffee shop. My previous favorite has transitioned, through its success, from coffee shop to bustling restaurant and thus is no longer a place I can while away the hours. Starbucks is ubiquitous and predictable, but lacks character or surprise, so I find muself coming happily back tothe Abbey.

Though its name might suggest a place cloistered and dim, the Abbey offers instead a yawning, spacious warehouse vibe. The concrete floor is bare and exposed, chipped of paint and textured with pock marks and cracks. The ceiling stretches up two stories, with the ductwork intentionally visible, pipes crossing at angles to it and steel beams gridding it all. Single Edison bulbs are suspended from long, wavering cords that sway slightly in the breeze wafting in from the open garage door, all glass, which fronts the shop. In favorable weather, the baristas pulley it up, bringing in a wash of twilight and a smooth breeze.

In keeping with the warehouse minimalism, the chairs are gey metal, though in an interesting, modern shape, arranged under tables that have heavy, wrought iron claw pedestals and thick unembellished wood slab tops. A few apholsterd wing back chairs are placed around the perimeter, softening the effect. To the left, an open stairway, edged with wire cables, ascends to a loft outfitted with a cluster of overstuffed chairs flanking low coffee tables. A line of high swivel  pull up to a bar that runs the length of the loft and looks out over the space below.

One of my favorite features of the Abbey is an elevated stone fire pit, several feet square, flanked on all sides with deep-cushioned couches.On mellow nights, the fire is lit, and bright orange flames lick the sky, bending in the direction of the breeze. The cooler air around it alternates on my shoulders and face with the waves of heat that waft my way. Shadows soften on the grey concrete floor and the Edison bulbs brighten in the growing dimness.

Abbey is almost always just comfortably busy, not packed, with music unobtrusively mingling with the sound of baristas clicking cups, tables of students talking quietly, laughter occasionally spilling into the space between them and me.

Thoug “industrial warehouse” is definitely the feel of this place, stripped of embellishment with clean, simple lines, somehow the atmosphere does not seem at odds with a medieval abbey. It is a space that feels welcoming, airy, comfortable, and unique. Its understated, simple decor allows lingering, nurtures thought, and even, somehow, fosters solitude, even in the midst of small clusters of people hunched over books or laptops, or playing a board game set up on one of the wooden slabs.  three-paneled piece of art, each canvas as tall as I, conveys the mood of Abbey perfectly: it depicts a muted snow scene, with peasant women in long, flowing robes clustering to talk, bearing packages, in perpetual quietude, not attending to anyone in the room.

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Every time  I pass them, my breath catches and I stifle the urge to audibly say, “Oh!” They are so lovely. Dozens of tulips bunched in green-leafed patches, their colors shouting into the sky: brash red; wild, happy orange; fervent purple; sunny hello yellow. A week opened, their huge thick petals splay apart, erupting from juicy stems. They will last only a few more days like this, large and brilliant, before their petals, arched outward from powdery stamens, loosen and fall. The gently curved chips will clutter the ground, will wedge between green leaves, a haphazard mosaic, before they shrivel, darken, and transform into brittle tissue. Oh!

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