This past week, whenever I stepped out to get in my car, a thin layer of ash dusted the roof of my blue Jetta. This constant reminder of the dangerous fires burning nearby rouses images of last November when that season’s wildfires prevented the Pasadena Half Marathon from being held. I had trained all year for the race to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. I was prepared to fulfill my obligation to the donors who supported me, but there would be no official race. Instead, my half marathon would take place on a 13.1 mile course I’d mapped throughout our city. Despite the health risks of airborn particles, rising temperatures and a pair of thrashed running shoes that should have been replaced a couple months earlier, I ran for my son and my family.
Two particular moments come back to me from that Sunday morning in November of 2008.
Early in the run, around the five mile mark, I began an ascent up a mile long hill that leads past a new subdivision. I came over the horizon to the sight of the sun hanging up in the air like an orange, trying to burn through the smoking plumes coming from the south. A deep blue sky filled in the background behind the sun and the haze, creating an impression of glory and dread. As I gradually worked my way to the top on tired legs, Death Cab for Cutie’s “Grapevine Fires,” from their remarkable CD, Narrow Stairs, accompanied me on my journey. This song carries the weight of Death Cab for Cutie’s typical melancholy, yet I found strange comfort in the shuffling drum beat and the haunting lyrics, words that I read as strangely devotional between the song’s characters. Of course I thought of my family and how committed we are to each other. As the day progressed, all three of them, Julie, Sophie and Jacob, would meet me at various locations to provided me with a refill of water, snacks, and the cheers I needed to complete my solo run.
Later, around mile 10, my feet scuffled along the bike path that leads past, our local bowling alley, the train station and the Saugus Speedway. To my right was an open field, untouched by the local land developers, full of dry mud and overgrown grass. I looked up and saw a coyote standing regally on a ledge, observing me. Avoiding eye contact for fear it might feel threatened and pounce on me, I watched it out of my periphery. The coyote remained still as I passed by. I wanted to get one more view of it before going on my way, but when I looked back, the coyote was gone.
Last night, as I comforted my daughter during some bad dreams, sirens rang out somewhere in the distance. Outside, the moon was full, high above, away from the smoke and flames of our current crop of blazes. As I drifted to sleep with Sophie on my shoulder I thought of my family cheering me on as I ran that day, filling my heart with more love than I know what to do with; I thought of the orange sun hanging in the sky, a lone coyote staring down at me with wonder, and the wonderful strains of “Grapevine Fires,” its melody lulling me to sleep.