New North

Woodbury has three burial grounds. The oldest dates back to the 1670s. It’s the smallest, and though it’s well-maintained, to me it’s always  felt crowded with fallen and haphazard stones. If you’re say, at the library, it can make a good shortcut to the local swimming, ball diamonds, and playgrounds down in the Hollow.

Our North Cemetery, a half-mile or so up the road and also on the small side, had its first burial 150 years or so later. One of its boundaries meets the edge of the fields where I played baseball as a boy in the ’50s and ’60s, and we occasionally stepped into the brush-line there for a necessary moment.

The New North, across Washington Avenue (which is much less grand than it sounds), opened in the 1870s and is a different matter altogether. At about 20 acres, thanks to an extension a few years back, it’s by far the biggest of the three. It slopes west, down toward the river, with a dirt lane around the three of its edges not bounded by the road. Four more-or-less east-west lanes cut down the slope, with a number of cross-lanes connecting them. Perhaps a third of it is still open land, where no one has yet taken up residence.

New North is a cemetery. It’s seen a lot of tears and has regularly hosted sorrow, sadness seemingly beyond bearing, and utter despair. Some of those emotions have been mine. But time heals, and for me it’s mostly a familiar, comfortable, and even comforting place. There are lots of trees and other plantings in its older section, but it feels open, and because of its slope and orientation, it catches and holds the sun during the day. My parents are here. One set of grandparents. An uncle. An aunt. School classmates. Friends and parents of friends, and colleagues of three generations. The spot where my dust will eventually be sunk, preferably by slightly inebriated friends and family members.

Down in its southwest corner is an area I call Lake H., after our daughter. Before they improved the drainage, a foot-deep puddle would form here after every significant rain. Once, when H. was a young runner, we went out for a shuffle during a deluge, and when we got to the corner, the water was halfway up to her knees. We just thrashed on through the deep for six or seven strides, which she thought was a wonderful upending of usual behavioral norms, and we chortled the rest of the way home, where we topped it all off with a splash fight in a driveway puddle. I miss old Lake H.

New North has been a part of my running for a long time, much more so after its expansion. It’s quiet and safe: no cars blowing by. The terrain offers almost everything you need. You can just cruise around enjoying the day, doing up-and-downs or figure-eights, or just big circuits. I often use convoluted loops as part of a longer road run. And during periods of more-or-less serious training, the terrain is perfect for fartlek and Lydiard-style hillwork. The best slope for this, 200 yards or so and just the right pitch, is a lane that runs close by the grave of a great old friend and teammate, so in my mind it’s become David’s Hill.

I’m nowhere near alone in enjoying New North. Lots of locals walk here, many with their dogs. Unless the snow is deep, Paul and I wander through—dogless—a little after 7:30 on our morning constitutional. In season, fisherpeople park at the bottom of the slope and head for the river. In the fall, the cross-country teams from the nearby middle school do some of their training here and race the lanes as part of their competition course. I love seeing their somewhat eccentric limed directional markings appear every fall. There’s a man who parks against the southern boundary every Sunday morning and reads the paper. (We’ve decided his wife’s at church, and he’s…not.) Especially on long warm evenings you often see family members adding plantings and tidying graves. Of course, spring through fall, there’s a crew out mowing and trimming and keeping things neat. And digging and refilling the occasional hole as required. After all, as my grandfather, now in residence, used to say, “People are just dying to get in here.” 


Dermatology, gowns, and green legs

A few weeks ago I had a little growth on the front of my right thigh that I wanted the dermatologist to take a look at. My longtime derm guy has retired, and the practice is now run on an entirely different basis by a crew from Yale. I used to go in and Sal would say, “Ok, strip down and let me take a look.” Now I’m escorted into a much more modern space and the tech says, “Would you like a gown?” A gown? I had to ask what she was talking about. Anyway, they decided that whatever it was had to be sliced out, and I’ve been wandering around for a few days with a piece of gauze taped over a small incision. I’ve had to renew it several times, and this adhesive action has reminded me that as a runner in college I had to shave my legs below the knees to be taped every afternoon, and the trainer would spray on Cramer Tuf-Skin to make the tape adhere. Tuf-Skin over time would turn your flesh green unless you scrubbed it off with rubbing alcohol, which I seldom bothered with. So I spent my late teens and early twenties with stubbly green legs. I looked like a diseased tomato vine.


Of Recessionals and Processionals

When Harry and Meghan left St.George’s Chapel after their wedding the other day, the orchestra was playing the first movement of the glorious Symphony No.1 by William Boyce. It’s sunny, celebratory, and utterly joyful, which made it a perfect choice, even—maybe especially—when played at the breakneck speed required of the orchestra.

It made us especially happy, because it’s special music for us, too. When our daughter was born and we drove her home from the hospital, we pulled into the driveway and I hustled off into the house, where I’d already readied the Boyce (this version) on the turntable. I turned on the receiver, dropped the needle, and sprinted back out to the car. I carefully lifted our beautiful, precious newborn out of her seat, gently handed her to her mother, and we all walked into our new life together in absolute jubilation.

 


Winter running

So glad warmer weather is in sight…though the switch to Daylight Savings Time has turned the early mornings dark again.
A few weeks ago on line, I came across a set of encouraging Nike winter-running posters that recent New England weather has made non-obsolete.
  • “REFUSE TO HYBERNATE.” Excellent advice for all us, runners or not.
  • “IT’S ONLY COLD IF YOU’RE STANDING STILL.” Often true. Though sometimes there is this thing called “wind.”
  • “THE COLD CLEARS YOUR HEAD.” You do often feel especially fresh when you’re done, especially if you can still feel your ears.
Of course it’s Nike’s job to encourage cold-weather training. But I’m 70 years old and not an idiot. Usually. So I’ve developed a couple of somewhat more sober reminders of my own:
  • “DON’T RUN WHEN YOU’RE LIKELY TO TRIP OVER SOMETHING.” This boils down to “no more running in the dark.” And…
  • “DON’T RUN WHEN THE SNOW IS LIKELY COVERING ICE.” Which is basically, “I can’t perform that dance step anymore.”
I do have to balance these against my ultimate imperative:
  • “AVOID THE TREADMILL!”

Go Big Green

My college has decided not to expand the size of its student body, bucking a current trend and turning away from creeping universityitis.

The place has changed almost beyond recognition to an ancient grad like me. (Which, generally speaking is a good and appropriate thing.) But I’m pleased that the powers that be voted to retain what even more than a half-century ago was largely my reason for going there, though I never would have thought of phrasing it like this, noting Dartmouth’s

distinctive model of close student-faculty engagement in an intimate, collaborative community that honors our profound sense of place.

To me it was just a really good college that was famously outdoorsy and mixed what to me was the frightening intellectual with the reassuring physical.


A Geezer’s Experiment in Effort

I’ve been training well, and last Saturday I raced a 5-miler. It was an experiment. It’s been decades since I’ve been fit enough to lay it out there and actually compete rather than just staggering along. I was flat out. It felt good.

Being exhausted after a hard run when you’re in decent condition is an entirely different thing than being exhausted when you aren’t. The second is horrible in every imaginable way: physical, emotional, spiritual—you name the dimension. The first, on the other hand, hurts, but at the same time is profoundly satisfying. It’s the opposite of masochistic. You’re deeply, absolutely weary, and utterly empty, but it’s the fatigue of strong, functional parts. You feel used but not abused. And I now know that if you’re old, you also experience some pleasant artifacts of youth. Efficient breathing patterns. Solid rhythms of movement. A certain lightness.

It’s taken me three days to fully recover, but—I’m recovered. No pulls, strains, dents, dings, or aggravated whatnots of any kind. For which I credit primarily time in the gym with a great personal trainer. Liz understands what I’m after and has gotten me strong and loose and balanced enough to train and race without injury.

I plugged my time into one of those race conversion programs, which tells me that given my time for 5, I should be able to run a single mile in 7:06. My goal for the summer is 7-flat, so I’m chuffed.


It’s Valentine’s Day!

I’ve mentioned before that when things are going well, I often find myself walking around singing Besame Mucho. Why is this? I hate Besame Mucho. Awful in Spanish; hideously, grotesquely, worse in English.

Kiss me, kiss me a lot,
As if tonight were the last time
Kiss me, kiss me a lot…

Excuse me while I hurl. I admit that in certain circumstances, “kiss me a lot” is an excellent idea. Not much could be more enjoyable. But if you’ve got to urge it on your object of desire over and over? Yuck.

Mind you, I’m perfectly okay with a good love song—How Much Do I Love You is a standard around here on certain days, but that’s because it actually says something.

How far would I travel
Just to be where you are
How far is the journey
From here to a star
And if I ever lost you
How much would I cry
How deep is the ocean
How high is the sky

Now you can kiss me a lot.


So how’s it going?

I’ve been 70 for a couple of weeks now. The downsides include the old man’s existential confrontation with time and inevitability, disappearing short-term memory, and the onset of Raynaud’s disease, which makes my fingers turn almost comically white and go numb when the weather turns even a little chilly. The upsides are lots of love, a spectacular family, both nuclear and extended, great friends, freedom to travel, and a general level of physical health and fitness that astonishes and delights. Post-Mayo, I’ve changed my diet and lost vast blobs of flab.The gym has made me stronger and more flexible than I’ve ever felt. And the wonderful rhythmic swing of running, my great joy, goes well when the weather permits. According to my cool Garmin gizmo, my resting heart-rate these days is in the low 40s. I’ll take it.

 

 

 


Ah, memory….

My memory is shot. I can’t reliably tell you what day of the week it is, or what we’ve got scheduled for the next few days. I expect soon to forget my middle name. But baseball….

I can tell you the Washington Senators won the World Series in 1924 and that Bucky Harris hit the ball that took the bad hop over Freddie Lindstrom’s shoulder. I can tell you the names of the Cleveland “Big Four” in 1954 (Lemon, Wynn, Garcia, Feller) and that the Indians won 111 games that year—before getting swept by the Giants in the World Series. I can tell you that the unlikely winner of the American League Batting Championship in 1961 was Norm Cash. I can tell you that the ironically famous “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry had an older brother named Faye, who played mostly for the Red Sox and Senators. The other day we were watching a basketball game on TV, and I saw that one of the kids was wearing the number 32. “Hey,” I said. “Elston Howard,” and went off on a little riff about the late 1963 American League MVP, who became the Yankees’ primary catcher after Yogi Berra (John Blanchard was in the bullpen).

This stuff has frequently, dismissively, inevitably—and with profound incorrectitude—been described by others as trivia. (I once met a former employer at a wedding reception. He greeted me by saying, “I hear you’ve got a job now doing something as a baseball freak.” Which wonderfully teed up my reply: “You are calling me a freak?”) This knowledge, reminds me of my father and grandfathers, and my mother and aunts. It reminds me of teammates and particular games and moments. It’s fundamental to me, accumulated in my boyhood brain back when baseball, partly because of all these connections, was the most important thing in my life. And clearly, a lot of it really got stuck there.

So, what did I have for dinner tonight? Who knows? But the White Sox beat the Dodgers, 11-1 in Game One of the 1959 World Series. (Though the Dodgers took it in Six.)


Gratitude

I’ve always liked this, from the great Peter Snell: “When it’s pouring with rain, and you’re bowling along, wet-through, in the dark, there’s a satisfaction just in knowing you’re out there and the others aren’t.”

Pretty much every runner who’s ever trained to race can relate, either as the the guy on the move or as one of “the others,” knowing he should be on the move.

For me these days, “the others” are irrelevant, but I have been feeling profound satisfaction staggering along out there in the cold. Satisfaction in the form of gratitude. Gratitude for this:

“Patient with a history of advanced prostate cancer now off hormone therapy,
doing extraordinarily well.”

Thank you, Mayo Clinic. Thank you, Dr.Kwon.

Happy New Year, everybody.