not now

The assignment was to write a poem about writing a poem. I was climbing the ridge behind my house when the first whisper of this idea blew past my right ear. I chased it down my favorite trail through the forest for an hour, all the way back to the house, kicked off my muddy running shoes and sat down to write. At which point, of course, my mind went blank.

not now

[poor emma sits in the bay window among the plants behind me
so silent I don’t realize she’s there at first
I haven’t seen her all afternoon
I thought she might join me on my run as she often does
I race through the woods while she races through my brain
now, winded, sweaty, I sit down to put words to paper
and I hear her, just there
over my left shoulder]

no poor emma, not now. I’m trying to remember how the mountain is blue with layers of purple.
I’m trying to describe how there are streaks of red across it where the hardwoods are budding out and how the red is both close and far
like a star in the night sky that you can’t really see if you look right at it
but if you slide your eyes an inch to the left or right
it becomes perfectly clear.

Heyyyyyy heyyy I’m a monkey
please, Poor Emma, I’m trying to concentrate.
I’m trying to put words to the sound of water running under spring snow
and how when the crust gives way under my foot I sink to my ankle in sharp cold goo
and how scaryfun it is to cross a snowmelt pregnant river in late March.
I need to remember the sound that wind makes without leaves.

Ooooohhhhhhh dirty dishes in the siii-iiink,   dustbunnies on the staaa-iiiirs
[ignore ignore ignore; tip tip tap tap tap, backspace backspace backspace]

A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
[inhale                          close eyes       exhale]

In the jungle the mighty jungle the lion sleeps tonight
[...magenta, no; crimson, ugh too cliche; ruby, mmm, not really the right descriptor…]

aweeeema-weh, aweeeema-weh, aweeeema-weh, aweeeema-weh
POor EMma!                    -- please!
I’m trying to understand how the woodpecker’s trill bounces off the trees behind me in the woods
and how the weasel’s body does this undulating dance along the edge of the pond
and what it feels like when you hear the geese for a long time before you can find them in the sky.
I need to envision how the grey and charcoal of the birch work together
and where the yellow begins on the tips of the balsam.

[my scold turns Poor Em’s taunt into a sulk
she wraps her fingers around the rosemary stems
and flicks brittle houseflies into the corner of the window.
Po’ Em  just wants to be seen, to be heard, to have a life outside the south-facing bay window
and all I want is for her to ssssshhhhh
so I can focus
and find the words to finish
this goddamn

even Jeanine

the hens have been massacred again
their bodies are scattered
blood-orange blotches in the snow

their once brown eyes are milky now
awkward legs thrust out, stiff, ridiculous
three lifeless bodies crowd the doorway
two others are flopped near the gate
one severed head occupies a corner of the coop

even Jeanine lies limp

Jeanine survived one attack already
we found her hiding one morning
surrounded by gore and carcasses
her right eyeball dangled from its socket for weeks
it dried up, shriveled, and one day fell off
like a scab

this time Jeanine is not so lucky
thousands of copper and ebony striped feathers
litter the pen, collecting in corners
a few slip through the wire, drift across the snow
one undisturbed egg is their final offering

a weasel licks blood from its fur
curls itself around its full belly
and rests

rules (and breaking them)

Offered here, a series of haiku or possibly senryu, inspired by reflections on growing up (mostly) country in the 1970s and bouncing back and forth between small-town New England in the summers, and rapidly developing suburban Colorado during the school year. When I wrote this the only poetry rule I knew was that haiku follows a three line, 5-7-5 syllable (or sound) count. I had never even heard of senryu. Recently I learned that haiku is supposed to be written in present tense, the speaker should not be in the poem, it is traditionally an observation of nature, and a season is implied. Senryu tends to be more about the human experience, perhaps highlighting our humorous frailties. A quick search of Japanese haiku masters reveals that the “Four Greats” regularly took some liberty with the rules. And modern haiku (and quite possibly senryu) are not necessarily held to that standard anyway. Ugh. Still, mostly ignorant, I now know just enough to understand that this is likely a butchering of the art form’s original intent. Or, for the optimist, a wobbly attempt at participation in the continued evolution of interaction between humans and words.

wind chimes are the song
of sweet summers at Tay-Gwen
my grandparents’ farm

rural western Mass.
green rivers, backyard ponies
eighty days a year

the other nine months
roaming elk herds and highways
seven thousand feet

Ponderosa pine
suburban Colorado
dusty, arid, blue

the world was modern
everything faster, and new
me: just not, not quite

just not belonging
the other kids were cool, smart
I was naive, raw

nineteen seventies
striped shirts, bare feet, cut-off jeans
two brown messy braids

tree-climbing tom boy
chucking apples from stone walls
the youngest of three

my two big brothers
always faster and stronger
me: not keeping up

crashed my bike one day
no hands on the handlebars
me: wrecked in the dirt

one was lost in work
one was lost in the bottle
no one else saw it

bloodied chin and palms
bike chain dragging behind me
embarrassed, mostly

untethered we ran
before seat belts and helmets
dusk was our curfew


I can’t recall ever hearing Granddad speak more than a word or two at a time until after my grandmother passed away. Grandmom reigned. Her voice was at the center of things, saying words to each of us individually, all of us collectively, organizing us, keeping us in line, directing the flow of events. Granddad was her right hand man, somehow always just a beckoning distance away. She called Granddad “Quartz” — an accidental childhood nickname he gave himself, unable to pronounce his own name, Clarence.  Quartz! she would call from wherever she was, and Granddad would pause from his newspaper or work bench or garden plot to fulfill her request. My grandparents married in 1929, just as the United States was sliding into the Great Depression. Forty plus years later, the kitchen drawers and closets exploded with empty plastic bread bags, twist ties, crinkled paper sacks, old shoe laces, rubber bands, and a million other useful and useless items. They were string savers. “Waste not, want not” was a lifestyle, a guiding philosophy, and it was passed along to my parents, and to me and my brothers too. In elementary school, the occasional luxury of carrying my lunch in a crisp new brown paper sack brought me indescribable quiet joy.

Grandmom made us magic eggs for breakfast (neither my brothers nor I can account for what made them “magic” but it’s what she called them). We were instructed not to spill any food on the carpet because there was no dog to clean it up like we were used to at home. Granddad cooked pancakes one at a time. My brothers and cousins and I sat around the table with sticky chins devouring them. He moved from the griddle to the table, balancing a steaming hotcake on his spatula. His rule: whichever one of us smiled the biggest got the next one. Granddad was the sweetest man I ever knew. The kindest, gentlest soul. He brought bowls of cherry tomatoes in from his garden and put them on the table for us. We popped them in our mouths like candy. Granddad gave us underdogs on the swing he had hung from a branch and played Pepper in the back yard with my brothers. His old wooden bat cracked the ball. My dad and two brothers took turns catching, the sound of the ball splatting into their leather mitts, the voices of men and boys in the backyard. I watched from the steps because it was a boy thing. I was not invited to join them and did not know I could ask. I was the only granddaughter, an anomaly. Grandmom brought me outfits that matched, gave me dolls to play with, and ran a soft brush through my long hair, freeing it from my two functional braids — a startling departure from my usual tom-boy hand-me-down jeans and tee shirt wearing, tree-climbing, scab-picking preferences.

Each summer we visited Grandmom and Granddad on Ashland Ave., where beyond the weeping willow the sandy lawn disappeared into the meadows and salt marshes. At night the lights from the Atlantic City skyline twinkled at us from across the bay, tall marsh grasses swaying in the breeze. It was an innocent time: we caught fireflies in jars, ran barefoot, and slathered butter across ears of corn grown in Granddad’s garden. At dusk we ran behind the DDT truck as it made its way through the neighborhood. My older brothers and boy cousins pedaled fast on their bikes while I ran, the only girl, the youngest, not keeping up. It was training, I suppose, for years later when I would follow my brothers down ski hills in Colorado. They were racers, pounding gates and flying down black diamonds. I did not like to go that fast. Not yet.

At the beach, Granddad lifted me onto his shoulders keeping me safely above the terrifying waves. Chest deep in the Atlantic Ocean my dad would launch my brothers by their feet from his cupped hands, their lithe, tanned bodies arcing into the water. Grandmom brought a cooler with Granddad’s garden tomatoes and cheese sandwiches for us all. Years later my brothers and I recalled the youthful hilarity of eating “sand”wiches at the beach and the torment of crunching course grains between our teeth as we chewed. Late in the afternoon, we returned salty and spent from the beach and used the hose to rinse off outside, the last to go shivering from the coldest water. Grandmom gave us clean rough towels for drying off.  The only bathroom was on the second floor. The best view in the whole house was out that second story bathroom’s eastern facing window while sitting on the john. At the edge of the marsh even on the hottest summer days there was always an offshore breeze. Towels and bathing suits flapped from the clothes line. Upstairs, not napping, I listened to the wind blowing through the window screens.

Grandmom had a stroke one winter. My dad and Granddad sat by her side, squeezing her hand until the end.

When I was thirty, my dad and I traveled back to Pleasantville to visit Granddad.  With the tape recorder rolling, we sat around that same smile-big-if-you-want-a-pancake table and asked him questions about his relatives, his childhood, his life. He told us about his first job with New Jersey Bell Telephone and how during war time he was literate in morse code. He remembered traveling west as a small child with his parents in search of a better climate for his mother who was recovering from tuberculosis. Granddad used short wave radio to communicate with people all over the world. He recounted sweet memories of courting Bess (Grandmom) and their more than 65 years together. Granddad said he would do it all over again in a heartbeat if he could. He drove us to the cemetery where his grandparents are buried and showed us the farmhouse where he grew up, long since abandoned, dilapidated, covered with vines. In the driver’s seat, Granddad placed his hands at 9 and 3, pinky fingers tucked inside the wheel. He talked for hours, and days. It was the most I had ever heard him speak. It was as if in all those years of quiet he’d been saving up his words and now they flowed out of his mouth like butterflies. He spoke of his mother, a kind woman who died too young. He was only four years old and had no real memories of her. His eyes filled with tears when he told us about his Grandmom Hanna who raised him and loved him like he was her own son.

Granddad played the violin — fiddle, actually — a subtle term difference I didn’t notice at the time, but I now think of as an indication of his sweet humility.  It was not the stuff of concert halls and velvet curtains where audience members in stiff collars sat with perfect posture. His fiddle was an instrument played for no audience, just for the joy of it, by a man who spent many years working with his hands. The specialness of it was lost on me as a child. I didn’t know it was golden, it was all just happening and I was simply in it. Nearly two decades have passed since Granddad pulled his bow across the fiddle strings for the last time. My dad and brothers reached hands over the side of a boat, releasing his ashes into the swirling black water. I don’t remember our final words to each other or the last time I saw him. What I do remember is sitting barefoot on the wide wooden stairs, elbows on my knees, chin in my hands, watching his hands make music.


We drive down snow-covered roads past farmhouses, stone walls, winter camps, and trailers. Past stately pines, their highest branches pushed and pulled by the March wind. Snow wisps are freed from their little pine needle prisons, released back into the winter world. Twisting roads carry us past open pastures, snow-covered ponds, long driveways, and dark woods. Goats chew their hay, contentedly clumped together under a lean-to. Maples are claimed by sap lines and No Trespassing signs. Dirt turns to pavement and the road begins to climb. We come upon a doe, crumpled in the opposite lane, glassy-eyed, unmoving. Her neck is broken, twisted at a grotesque angle. The driver, her fate-maker, sits helpless but unharmed, awaiting the police. He says he is fine and waves us on. There is nothing we can do. And so we go. Slowly, wordlessly, a little sad now. We climb into a low hanging snow dumping cloud. It drops an inch in an hour.

Mia and I stretch skins onto our skis, slap packs on our backs, and slide onto well-traveled tracks. My four legged pal Lewie takes point and is soon racing ahead, up the Long Trail. Up and up and up. We climb through enormous birches and ancient maples. They are beautifully grotesque giants from another time. We spook a massive pileated woodpecker, red and black and white flashing up the trail, quickly out of sight. The sun is nowhere. Our hoods collect with snow. Our bodies power us forward. Sweat lays against my skin, untouched by the 16 degree air which cannot find its way through my five layers on top. Our hearts siphon relentlessly and our lungs are on the job like fireplace bellows, begging for oxygen as we climb up and up and up.

Goshen Mountain rises up before us, all curvy and ivory and gorgeous. She is tempting us, offering herself to us like a winter goddess, quietly daring us to ascend her three thousand voluptuous vertical feet. We put our heads down and go, dutifully onward, and the soft and perfect snow cajoles us along. Fifty two minutes tick by as we breathe and sweat and move arms and legs until we arrive.

In the woods, in winter, we are mountaining. It is not to conquer, but to join this warrior tribe of ancient rock, stooping trees, graceful pine boughs, and wind. The summit is a snow globe of white and grey and cold fine feathery snow. The stunning view hides behind an ashen curtain of modesty. She will not show herself — not today, not for us, no matter how hard we worked to get here.

We change quickly, pulling skins from our skis, finding dry mittens, business-like and swift as the sweat dries and the cold gusts swirl around. Winter and this mountain have no concern for two women and a small dog, shivering on top of a peak. We know our place. And so, with little pause and no ceremony, we leave her, this Goshen Mountain goddess. We leave her as we found her — standing in the wind, alone, mighty, hauntingly beautiful and wordlessly awaiting her next callers.

Like puppies, full of foolish glee, we descend. Down and down and down, through her fluffy white contours, freeing ourselves. We leave tracks behind and push heaps to the sides, dodging trees and boulders. This mountain goddess harbors a seen and unseen bounty and we feast greedily all the way down the hillside. Our shins graze the arms and fingers of Buck Brush as it reaches up from its white winter blanket, patiently waiting for the warmth of some other day to birth its bat shaped buds.

At the end, we startle four does, scraping and nibbling on what they can scavenge beneath the cover of a behemoth hemlock. They gaze at us, nostrils flaring, ears twitching, curious and still. They are brown-eyed, straight-necked, alive.


I am sitting cross-legged in the dark, reading by headlamp. The rest of the house is a still silence I’m trying hard not to break. Turning pages, sipping tea, watching the sky get light. I get dressed and slip out the door, pulling it closed carefully, making no sound but for one final click behind me. Outside the sky is blue-yellow, the air is sweet and crisp and the sun is not yet over the horizon. The overnight gift of fresh new powder covers everything, a perfect and teasing blue winter light. Lewie looks up at me as I put on my skis. Heading out into the fluff, my little four-legged pal takes a jolly lead, filling his nose with new sniffs. We cruise past farmhouses, eagerly gobbling up this delicious early morning gift. High open fields are hugged by acres of tapped sugar maples awaiting the spring sap run.

Later, there is chatting and planning and movement in the kitchen as oatmeal bubbles in the pot. The day stretches out ahead, full of possibility and new trails to explore. Smiles stretch our pink winter-kissed cheeks. Our zestful spirits can not be contained. Hearts pounding, words flowing back and forth, legs and arms moving us forward through life. It’s marvelous, this thing we are doing: frolicking about in the Northeast Kingdom on a weekend in February. Creating time and space to come together and romp around in this endless winter beauty. Our sweet good fortune twirls around the room, lays herself across the table between full bowls of hot food, dashes from woodsy trail to high meadow vista, and curls up next to the roaring wood stove. We are alive, together, whole, privileged. We dutifully and gratefully wring every bit of joy from the day and each other.

On another in-your-face day of good fortune I find myself in a warm room filled with magnificent people, hot food, and good cheer. Again, so mind-blowingly lucky. We are toasty and fed, healthy and free from oppression. Autonomous, self-directed, independent, educated. I’ve somehow been invited into this circle of cool, outdoorsy, intelligent, fun, edgy, wonderful women who gather from time to time to talk about written words and the ideas they ignite. We talk about books we have read and books we’d like to read next. Sharing ideas and laughs and wine while dogs roam from one set of petting hands to another. Outside it is bitterly cold and the crescent moon opens herself to a sky full of stars. A sky we gawk at as we say our goodbyes and head for home, each of us, to a place much like this one: warm, safe, where people who love us are waiting.

And now today, another stunning day dawns. A bluebird sky and sunlight streaming through windows. Another best day stretches out ahead. The light, the tops of trees, the birds. This place is painfully beautiful. I tromp through the woods with EB, answering her questions, asking some of my own, looking at winter shadows. She pauses now and again to photograph leaves, ice formations, the light, trying to capture the sometimes brilliant and sometimes very subtle beauty all around us. Lewie darts across the frozen crust of snow, in perpetual pursuit of invisible animal scent contrails. We are animate, breathing, conscious, and inexplicably given another day to live. It humbles me. I gush with dumb-struck gratitude. It can’t be overstated: we are impossibly fortunate.

dark, then light

The last sixty days of the calendar year inspire deep burrowing under blankets and a retreat from the world. The end of soccer season is both a colossal let down and a quiet relief. I have been emptying my heart and soul into the work of coaching and team building, squeezing out every last drop of thought, time, energy and myself for the girls and the task at hand. Then to end of season meetings and evaluations and banquet and tying up loose ends. When all this momentum and energy rolls to a halt, the pull to go within and find quiet spaces takes over. I follow these urges like an over-tired, weepy child being led by the parent’s hand. When the season ends I come home after the day’s work and have little left for much more than a warm mug, soft blankets, quiet. I give in to couch-lock, some nights making my way to my bed before 7pm, feeding my body with all the sleep it didn’t get between August and November. I eat cheese and bread and spicy soups. I get pale and soft. I am not beckoned by my art brain nor the outdoors. I am in. Deep. Inside the house, inside the blankets, inside myself.

It is a state of being that is fully foreign to my other 300 days of the year. And it’s kind of delicious.

Then, in January, something … happens.

I climb out of the chrysalis I’ve spun into a new year. Snow and freezing cold and lengthening days and the beginning of the next cycle. A whole new 365 days lie ahead, full of hope and opening and possibility. Goals to set, mountains to explore, trails to ski, birds to feed, journals to fill, eggs to collect, sunrises to notice. Tears to cry, people to hug, dogs to pet, cool clear water to drink, mountain powder to glide through, friends to love, words to write. It’s all stretched out ahead. Waiting. Beckoning. And as before when I allow myself to be led weeping, exhausted, emptied out into the cozy dark, I now let this first month of the year lead me up into the light, out of the house, into the woods, back into the world.

Oh, January, how I love you.


August is a low hanging hazy sun and crickets. Hot buttered corn on the cob, sliced cucumbers and afternoon warmed tomatoes. High mountain grasses are pushed around by the breeze.  It is climbing mountains and exploring rivers and diving deep into cold swimming holes. It is the beginning of the end of summer. And also the bittersweet transition into soccer season. It means the end of unstructured days of woods-running and sweaty adventures and hands in garden dirt, and the beginning of intensely structured two-a-days and planning practices. Preseason is a jumble of new and colliding energies, nerves, dew-dampened feet, sprinting legs, clamoring voices, the sound of leather cleats on soccer balls and labored breath. We are each of us putting ourselves out there, making ourselves vulnerable, taking risks, building trust. It’s about pushing through discomfort. We come in scared and steeled for the unknown. It’s a reminder that life is meant to be lived, really lived, and not played safe.


There is pain and disappointment. There is heartbreak. There is sober reckoning and regret for not having prepared better. There is bitter acceptance and then the potential for writing a new future starting now. And there is joy, relief, pride. A celebration. Our bodies, all different, can do amazing things. Our hearts, each unique, can connect. There is a chaos of energy and feelings and intent and hopes and insecurities and focus, awkwardly clunking and lurching around, bumping against a lack of chemistry. But we keep at it, every day. It is not easy. Sometimes the humid air is so oppressive and sticky our chests feel too heavy to hold our breath. Muscles are pushed hard, lungs heave, sweat droplets fall from chins.  It is tempting to let up, but we keep at it. And then a whisper of magic floats by. You might even miss it if you aren’t paying attention. It’s the first one, and it’s followed soon after by another. And pretty soon there’s something flowing that wasn’t there before, not all together, not like this. We are all building it individually and collectively, little by little, with a million decisions we make each day. Each time we decide to give a little more, to push a little harder, to look someone in the eye, to open, to try, to step up, to risk discomfort, we are adding to the greater whole. It is a moment that inspires awe. Watch for it. That moment when we are now becoming a thing that is more than the sum of our parts. We are exponentially greater than any one of us individually. We are becoming a tribe, a family, a team. It feels awe-inspiring and warm and wonderful and powerful. It is the beginning.



Leaving home is an arduous task. Not literally, but philosophically, emotionally, spiritually. It's not agoraphobia, it’s just that there is really no place I’d rather be than running through my familiar woods, working my garden dirt, pausing to stare at Breadloaf Mountain. I am a putter downer of deep roots, living in the same house for the last 23 years, becoming one with this place. But from time to time a shove out the door is in order. There is value in leaving.  


Leaving makes room for other things, opens up space, keeps us looking around. Elsewhere the birds and trees and people, roads and towns and skylines are all new. Suddenly I notice the wind sounds unfamiliar in these trees. The rain drips differently off these leaves. I carry the same body on the same scarred legs, yes, but now through a fresh landscape.


We are holed up on an island on Lake Ouareau in Quebec, a couple of hours north of Montreal in the Laurentian highlands. The early morning quiet of this place feels tenuous. I barely breathe for fear of disturbing it with a cough or footstep or coffee cup lifted gently from its hook. The rain slows everything. The start of the day is plodding, deliberate. The impetus to be out is quelled. Rain splats against the glass behind my head, and trees are bent by the westward wind. Little birds find refuge in the low-growing evergreens and flit from branch to branch piping their little songs and searching for whatever it is little birds search for on rainy mornings. Restless, I stand on the porch and feel the rainy air blow around me, cooling my itchy skin.


This place forces the typical day's pace to a crawl— as slow as we can bear to keep it. There is no connection with the wider world. No electricity, no phone, no internet, no interruptions. Life is simple, uncomplicated, task-oriented. Water is hauled in buckets from the lake and heated on a propane stove for washing.  Necessities include a sleeping bag, a book, and matches. What’s left of the day’s light is swallowed by hungry night settling in around us. We sit in candlelight. Our fingers work with melting wax and we talk about life and art and letter-writing. Family, childhood, memories, pains, and joys. Ideas and wishes and feelings.


Ringed by red pine and gentle mountains, the lake is dotted with cottages. On sunny July afternoons the water buzzes with motor boats and laughter. Kayakers hug the shorelines and explore swampy inlets and rocky islands. But on this cold rainy morning it is just me, standing barefoot in my raincoat with a coffee cup, watching a pair of loons. They hunt and dive and paddle on by, giving me a rare and precious front row seat to their striking black and white and red plumage.  



The 1920s stone fireplace holds a midday fire while the rain continues to hold us in, voluntary captives in this treasured place. Kate is practicing the curious and unfamiliar art of doing absolutely nothing, pillows propping her arm and injured wrist in a position of rest. Mia works needle and thread to patch a pair of linen pants worn thin by her mother. Damp dogs rest at opposite ends of the room. I sketch and read and scribble words on paper. This placid pace is both delicious and uncomfortable. I grow fidgety and wander from window to window. Dry kindling pops and crackles, shooting sparks uselessly into the metal screen, jarring the silence. The dogs lift their heads briefly, sigh loudly, then easily re-enter their canine dreams. We are held here, water on all sides. Fire and tea and wind and rain.




Far as I can tell there is not much useful, constructive, or productive that comes from self doubt. It just gets in the way of forward progress, popping up like a tree root to stumble over. I suppose you could argue that it can serve as a little voice cautioning you, slowing you down, saying are you sure? But mostly it feels more like a weed that grows twice as fast as everything around it. Doubt is a seed, and once it gets a chance to set roots it can grow like mad.


I am halfway up a mountain I did not mean to climb in the Calvin Coolidge Forest in Shrewsbury, VT. The first questionable decision I make is to ignore the fact that I have not yet seen a Catamount Trail marker even though I’ve been running about 20 minutes. Just keep going, this trail is really pretty, maybe it’ll link up soon. I continue climbing through hardwood and over boulders and into what is surely a favorite denning area for black bear and who knows what else. I take out my bell and let it hang from my waistband, making as much noise as I can. The view at the top is, indeed, stunning, and might even be worth derailing the rest of my day I don’t know this yet though.


As I run back down I consider trying one of the trails I passed on the way up to see if it connects with the Catamount Trail, but in the end I opt to head back to the trailhead where I was dropped off and try again from the start. Within a minute or two I see where I went wrong: it’s the allure of a clear, well-traveled trail marked with blue blazes that I had followed, as opposed to the less attractive choice of plowing through chest-high nettles to find the CT markers. Silly me. I have now traveled 4 miles up and down Shrewsbury Peak to arrive precisely at the spot where I began an hour ago, a decision which turns this 8 mile run into something more like 12.


The little seed of doubt is setting roots. I am questioning my earlier decision to frolic, care-free up a mountain instead of staying with the plan. Which leads to some wondering about setting off again now on my still healing stressed hamstring alone into the remote woods with no cell coverage, already behind schedule. I try calling Tom to get a reality check but no cell service. Okay, I think, if I could talk to him what would he say? He would ask me what have you got for water, what have you got for calories, and how’s your hamstring feeling?  Plenty of water. It’s predicted to be very hot and humid, but I tend to lean more toward pre- and post- run hydrating, so making the water last shouldn’t be a problem. My belly is full of oatmeal and I’m carrying about 600 or more calories in my Camelbak. The hamstring feels fine. My legs are, admittedly, a bit tired from the first 4 miles, but the rest of the run is supposed to be relatively gentle terrain, therefore … check, check, and check. Onward then.


Things start off fine. The trail is well marked and the map and description I am following all make sense now. I am lured deep into the woods and the adventure that lies ahead in spite of a few nagging pangs of doubt.


About 30 minutes in I notice that the going has become slower than I would like. Thick nettles, buck brush, and grasses blanket the trail making it basically impossible to see where to place my feet. And when my feet do land, they seem only to find running water, a rocky stream bed, or a jumbly mess of branches hiding beneath the growth. This becomes not so much a run as a careful one-foot-in-front-of-the-other while whacking away at the nettles kind of slog. The trail clears slightly for a ways, I’ll get 20 or 30 running steps in, and then I’m back to blindly feeling my way. It’s tempting to just plow through, but I know that attitude puts me at risk: one wrong step and I’m in trouble. Out in the woods, the difference between everything being okay and everything being really bad can be as simple as landing wrong. So I’m careful. And it’s taking forever.


I get to the Sargent Brook crossing and am dismayed to discover that in an hour I’ve only covered 1.7 miles. And the trail seems to be getting increasingly impassable. I’m frustrated and questioning myself and pouring sweat and the deerflies are finding me. So on I go. Forty minutes later I cross over the AT/LT and look at my map to see that this marks the “last bail out” opportunity until I get to mile 8.5. Doubt has firmly taken hold at this point. I am questioning every decision I make and then second and third guessing it. My inner cheerleader sounds like a flighty dumbass basically cheering me over the edge of a cliff. On my other shoulder is the voice that just shrugs and says I dunno, do the math. I look at my watch, I look at my odometer, I look at the map. Since my “restart” I’ve covered only 2.3 miles in just under 2 hours. I’ve got about 6 miles to go to get to my car at Brewer’s Corner. If the trail improves and I can actually run it, I'm golden assuming all goes well and I don’t lose the trail and the footing improves and I ration my water and my hamstring holds up, then no problem. Even if the trail doesn’t improve and I have to machete my way over the next 6+ miles, I will still get out before dark. Probably.


I continue on, clinging to the tiny thread of optimism that hasn’t yet been choked to death by the gargantua of growing self-doubt. There’s pride involved too. I do not bail out. I see it through, damnit, even if it sucks. About 50 yards in I stop in my tracks. Shit. What am I doing? I turn and look behind me, paralyzed by indecision. Okay, breathe, think it through. I picture best and worst case scenarios for each decision. I imagine myself plowing on, getting the job done and feeling like the mightiest bad-ass ever or at least like I’ve earned a cold beer.  Or, I plow on, something goes wrong, and I’m alone in the woods with no cell service. Or, I swallow my pride and bail out, hop on the AT/LT and get myself out to the nearest road and figure out my next move from there. Or I bail out and regret it and later decide I have let myself off the hook too easily a failure and a wimp. Shit shit shit. Doubt is clouding everything. I seem to have forgotten handling the 100+ miles of remote wilderness I ran last summer  — a thought which really should fill me with confidence or at least give me an encouraging metaphorical pat on the back. Nope. Not a wisp of courage to be found. Just me, standing on this trail alone, kind of freaking out a bit. The idea of continuing on scares me. The thought of bailing out makes my throat get tight and tears form in my eyes. Shit.  


I choose tears over fear, turn around, and jog back to the AT/LT and — with the decision now made enjoy a long cruising run downhill to civilization. It’s another hour of running down a few back roads before I get cell service and make my mercy call. My hamstring held up well, and I am alive. But that pride I swallowed sits like a dark piece of coal in my belly.