25 December 2010

Christmas Tradition

Ten years ago today was the last time I saw my father.  Today's run I thought about him a lot.  Today was also one of those days when I feel grateful for the freedom allowed by my lifestyle. 

Started out running up Green Mtn, not seeing a single person until I reached the top.  A girl and her straggling parents were up there, so we chatted a minute about things ranging from lady bugs to fear of heights (the mother).  And I asked the girl to snap a photo of me and try to get Longs Peak in it as well.
It was way cold at 8:30 when I started but I gradually warmed by the top.  McDavid makes two variations of arm warmers, lighter ones and thermal ones.  The thermal ones were perfect today.  I was also obviously wearing the calf compression sleeves.  The rest of my ensemble was made up of Pearl Izumi products, including a new pair of Fuel XCs.  I've been meaning to move up a half size in all my running shoes.  I've been wearing them snugly with my toes just brushing the ends and surprizingly haven't lost a toenail.  I figured with the heavy season of racing planned that now is the time to move up a half size, so I ordered five pair of PIs in my new size.  They felt great on the run with no problems other than catching a toe on rocks/roots now and then but I'm sure I'll get used to them shortly.
  I headed back down Green, over and up Bear Peak.
Green Mtn as seen from the top of Bear Peak.  I've probably taken 8 photos exactly like this over the last three years.
The top of Bear was empty, quiet, and warm.  I scampered down to fern trail, on to Mesa and back to Chautauqua, turning back uphill towards Bluebird and over to Gregory, then back down to the lot.

To continue the tradition, I headed out for Christmas Chinese food.

I dislike Christmas for many social, commercial reasons, but mostly because of the memories of that Christmas time period ten years ago.  Upon reaching his house in the Berkshires of western MA the day after he died, I got out of the car and my knees buckled under the weight of my heart.  I stayed on my knees in the deep snow and single digit temperatures for a long time.  I was told afterward that he said we were soul mates, which must have been true because I knew my life would never be the same.  I've lost people in my life before but the impact of this loss was more than I thought I could take. 

I feel closer to my dad every time I'm on a mountain trail and today even more so.  That changed me into a hollow shell of who I used to be and I've been slowly filling myself back in over the last few years.  Time has softened the edge but there's a void in me that I'm afraid to look into.  The mountains help.  Running helps.  Retaining the clarity in my memories of my bond with my dad helps.

A poem by Galway Kinnell, one of my favorite poets, who inspired some of my best literary theory papers in college:

To Christ Our Lord

The legs of the elk punctured the snow’s crust
And wolves floated lightfooted on the land
Hunting Christmas elk living and frozen;
Inside snow melted in a basin, and a woman basted
A bird spread over coals by its wings and head.

Snow had sealed the windows; candles lit
The Christmas meal. The Christmas grace chilled
The cooked bird, being long-winded and the room cold.
During the words a boy thought, is it fitting
To eat this creature killed on the wing?

He had killed it himself, climbing out
Alone on snowshoes in the Christmas dawn,
The fallen snow swirling and the snowfall gone,
Heard its throat scream as the gunshot scattered,
Watched it drop, and fished from the snow the dead.

He had not wanted to shoot. The sound
Of wings beating into the hushed air
Had stirred his love, and his fingers
Froze in his gloves, and he wondered,
Famishing, could he fire? Then he fired.

Now the grace praised his wicked act. At its end
The bird on the plate
Stared at his stricken appetite.
There had been nothing to do but surrender,
To kill and to eat; he ate as he had killed, with wonder.

At night on snowshoes on the drifting field
He wondered again, for whom had love stirred?
The stars glittered on the snow and nothing answered.
Then the Swan spread her wings, cross of the cold north,
The pattern and mirror of the acts of earth.
Walking with Pippit at the lake tonight.


  1. Fantastic post. Kinnell read at my college and being a poetry major I was fairly dialed-in. The verse is dense, alive, wise and big, holy.

    Can't wait to chew the fat, my friend,
    in person.

    I'm moved in a similar way on Christmas or any day for that matter with the loss of my Mom. Breaks my God-damn heart.

  2. Wish you had wanted to ski yesterday - it was awesome. Glad you had a great run. You know you have to share some of that cloud over Christmas with K now - rough spot for her also this year. We'll need to hook up for a run soon.

  3. Damn dude - very moving post.

    That said, Chinese sounds awesome.