Monday, October 24, 2011

Running the Dunes 'Til Our Legs Can't Keep Up


I watched my three year old run up the dunes this afternoon. We walked down to Lake Harbor Park, mid-day. My boy leaped from wooden retaining walls, ran up and down embankments, climbed on benches. A group of people, some elderly, some in wheel chairs, some with oxygen tanks, sat around a picnic table near a pavilion where brown leaves fell onto the wet green turf. Up and down wooden steps my tiny little boy ran and ran. He ran past the group of people. Ran down a leaf strewn trail under a falling canopy. Ran up and down a small dune toward the parking lot area and hid behind trees. Ran past young men walking into the woods with their friends to that place, the place where sweet, resinous smells mix with the autumn leaves, the place where young people go, where they've always gone. My boy ran up that hill to the place where the young people have always gone, past a group of young people sitting in a group, smiling or looking away, with their hands behind their backs...

"Excuse us...just passing through" is what I always tell them when one of my boys chooses this dune to climb, and this branch of woods to explore.

We ran past them. Through the hemlocks and the small, scraggly oaks clinging to a sandy shifting edge. And then down. And then across the dry dune grass, and then I sat and watched as my three year old boy ran up a large dune face. A trail where people have climbed for decades. A trail where people sled down.

Up, up, up he ran and I stayed at the bottom and watched the tiny little boy grow tinier, and tinier, and tinier as he climbed and turned and waved and climbed and climbed some more until he was a teeny tiny, tiny boy far up the dune.

And when I expected him to run down that steep, sandy dune, with gravity carrying him faster and faster until his little legs couldn't keep up and he did a face plant...he chose to stay up the hill instead and disappear into the woods at the top.

I yelled to him and he peeked around the corner of a dried wooden stump and then he disappeared again, and so I ran up the hill...

I ran and ran, up, up, up, the hundred foot dune after that tiny boy.

I used to run up the very same dune as a teenager. As a very young man I ran up this exact same dune. I walked over three miles to this park from my home then. And I'd get to the bottom of this dune and I'd run up it as fast as I could, and when I reached the top, I would vomit from exhaustion, and lay unable to move. Running up a sand dune isn't like running up a hill. The feet sink into the sand, and you slide back, and you lift your legs high and plant your next step and slide and on and on, gaining just inches with each step.

I ran up the hill after my tiny boy today, much older and heavier and sedentary than I was in high school, tasting iron from lungs with each breath, with aching then quivering calves, up, up, up and collapsing at the top where my boy was watching me from a gray, dried branch.

"Oh...." I panted to him... "hi...there you are........... you need to come down....when I call you..........." my lungs ached "......your squirt gun is.......over there by the grass....." I pointed over a little down the hill to his purple squirt gun, my legs were like rubber. He leaped down the dune from his perch on the branch and grabbed his squirt gun and ran back up to me. The leaping into the soft sand from such a height was apparently fun enough that he did it five or six more times while I felt the heat radiate from my own chest.

When I was finally able to breathe normally again, we ran down the hill, faster and faster until gravity overtook us, and our legs were moving faster than we could keep up with and we fell into the soft sand at the bottom. Then we walked home.

1 comment:

Martin Langeland said...

Wonderful sense memory evocation.
Those dunes were two and three times as tall as they appeared because of the sliding back.
In July and August it was bare legged through the aptly named saw grass with the dry sand hotter than the air to reach the delight of the cool wet sand and splash into the cooler lake.
Thank you.