The Best Canoe Ever

ramblinron:

Well, here we go. I’m going to repost a few favorites as we prepare to journey home tomorrow. Happy travels!

Originally posted on Ramblin Ron:

Once upon a time, back in the olden days when dinosaurs such as the AMC Gremlin, the Chevette, the LUV truck, the original Subaru Brat and other such worthless vehicles populated the earth for a short time, I was married. Shocker, I know. I have since been divorced and remarried, and that original marriage has faded into a distant memory that only once in a great while comes to bear on something that is happening in my life, which, is to say, not very often. My wife often says that it’s as if I was never married before her, as I obviously didn’t learn anything during that ill-fated short marriage, which may be why it was so short and so ill-fated. In actuality, there could not have been two people less suited for one another than she and I. As a matter of fact, I actually even liked her as…

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In the Weeds: Wrapping Up and Moving On

Before

Before – One of my best friends in the world, trying to sober me up. Thanks Nic. I owe you.

After

After: 100 pounds lighter and one year sober. With my greatest blessing in the world.

This has been a strange year, to say the least. The trip through and into sobriety has been sobering, pun intended, to say the least. I asked Laura if this year had been good or bad today. She replied, “A little bad, a little good.” I think that just about sums it up.

We’ve bought a new house in a new place and we’re in the process of moving. Moving is emotionally trying. I have mixed feelings about it. I love the mountains with all my heart, and there is and always will be the nagging realization that I have left so much undone in the area that I call home. I’ll miss the cold mornings and the bear. Besides eating all our peaches and scaring the cat onto the roof of our shed, he never bothered anything. He’d probably be mad to know that little Nolan calls him a “Kitty.” He’s the biggest kitty I’ve ever seen, that’s for sure. I hope whomever purchases our place will just leave him be. We’re lucky to see him once a year, although he takes care of all the termites and deadfall around our place.

I’ll miss the mountains and the river, the sound of people camping and the smell of campfires at night, when zero pollution renders the sky as my ancestors must have seen it, clear and startling in it’s immensity and majestic mystery.

I’ll leave with the fondness of a relationship ending on a good note. I’m looking forward to the future and I’ve stopped worrying about the past. I’m already in love with the Bay, the people, the sense of community and the opportunity to be close to Laura’s family. If luck has it, I’ll buy some land that I’ve been looking at for years near where we live now in Appalachia, build a small cabin on it by hand, and visit during the winter and spring with Laura and Nolan. We’ll pick berries and wild herbs, roast our food in the wood stove and allow Nolan to roam the mountains as I did. He’ll have the best of both worlds.

In the meantime, I hope that this blog has helped someone with their own struggles with whatever may be troubling you. I wish that I had some words of true wisdom, but I’m still finding my own way. Just remember to live for the day, make the best of every single situation, don’t worry about traffic and plan for tomorrow. Don’t be identified by your past. Ignore expectations from other people. Set your own goals and stick by them. You may fall down along the way. If you do, start over. Above all, be honest. With yourself and with others. Speak carefully. You don’t know who you might help, or hurt with an inadvertent judgement call that should be kept to yourself.

Keep eating!!

(Authors Note: This is all that I am going to post in this medium from the nearly completed book “In the Weeds.” I’d like to think that it may be published one day, but that’s a one in a million shot. Who knows? I do know that it is time to put this away and move forward. I’m going to return to writing my normal stuff about travel, people, cooking, kitchens, babies and everything else. Thanks for following along!!! To all of you out there that were praying for me, thank you so much. Thank you, Laura, for being my wife. Thanks to my medical team, a truly wonderful group of women who bonded together to save my life. Thanks to all my family, my Aunt Lois, my Aunt Vickie, my Mom, my Momma Sue, my Dad, my Papa Friedel, the guys at UVA, my brothers James, John and Samuel, my sisters, Jessica and Sarah, the first great loves of my life. They were there every minute with me. Sarah, thanks for the squiggle fingers and berry picking! Jessica, I’m so sorry the road was closed! Keli Ratcliffe, thank you for believing in my sorry ass and helping me keep writing. Last and night by any means least: Chef Michael Rork. Thank you, thank you, thank you for hiring me when no one else would. For giving me the chance to redeem myself in my own eyes. For helping me remember the value of hard work and the love of great food. The day you hired me I could barely walk up the stairs for my interview. By the end I could hold my own on the line, albeit tenaciously. I’ll never forget 97 order in 45 minutes on Thanksgiving Day and your faith that I could do it. Chef Andrew: Thanks for daring to shove me and expect the best, even knowing my condition. Chef Kate, thanks for adopting me and watching after me when I was too sick to do it on my own. Chef Fidel, thanks for never letting up, never letting me quit, daring me to fail, and lighting a fire under my ass utilizing my greatest tool: Pure Rage. You’re good, my friend. Delores, thanks for every minute that you helped me and gave me advice. Rachel, Rihanna, Erica, Heather, Chef MJ and everyone else at Harvest, thank you so much for your faith and allowing me the mistakes I made. Everyone: Thanks.  Sincerely, -RM)

In the Weeds: One Year

Today marks my one year anniversary with sobriety. On this night, one year ago, I drank the last of the alcohol in the house and tried to sober up. That night was a nightmare that I will never again repeat. I don’t remember much of it, but my wife, unfortunately, does. My son was too young to remember, I think, although we will never know how soon the seeds of tangible memories and behaviorism are implanted. I do remember terrible pain, shakes, sweats, hallucinations and violent vomiting and writhing. I do remember being locked in a room, unable to get out. I do remember thinking I was going to die. I remember my wife yelling at me to be quiet, to stop bothering her and saying that I needed help. I tried to call 911 and couldn’t. I just could not physically or mentally bring myself to such an admission of helplessness.

The next morning I was literally dying. My liver had stopped working, my heart rate was off the charts, my abdomen had swollen to the point of bursting and my eyes and skin were the color of a pumpkin. I had aged twenty years overnight. I sweated through clothes, blankets and pillows. As the sun came up the next morning I watched from the ground, hidden in the trees of what used to be a sanctuary of trees in the forest by our home. I couldn’t bear to be seen.

I was bleeding and vomiting profusely and reminded over and over of my Grandmother, my beloved Grandmother, in a similar state. I was reminded of watching a man die in Reno, NV on the sidewalk outside of Circus Circus as traffic roared by, and pediatricians hastened by, as if they would be contaminated by his passing. I remembered finding a young/old man on the sidewalk in Washington D.C., only steps away from the glamor of our world leaders, dead or nearly dead, stained with blood, urine, vomit and feces with a plastic half-gallon of vodka still clutched in his hand.

Staring into the sky, wondering if I myself were alive or dead, I watched the late summer clouds float overhead on the first rays of sunshine as warmth dappled my face. I thought of my wife, the most wonderful, trusting, beautiful woman I have ever met, her hopes and trust and dreams smashed and broken by this illness, this horrible thing that I had become so dependent upon. The bottle that had ruined our dreams, dashed my abilities and stunted my ambition. I could see our small son, only eight months old then, trying to crawl and walk and already bonding to his Dad. I laid up on the smooth earth, breathed the scent of the forest duff, and made a difficult decision. I took my car keys, started the truck and drove to the liquor store.

The store manager would not allow me to purchase any more alcohol. She offered to drive me home, call an ambulance, call my wife, take me to a restaurant, anything but allow me anymore alcohol. I thanked her graciously assured her that I was fine, more than fine and left the store. She watched me drive away with her phone in her hand. I fully expected her to call the police. Apparently, she didn’t.

Undaunted, as alcoholics are, I drove the few short miles over to WV, bought a handle of something that would have undoubtably killed me, spent the rest of my money on toys for Nolan and flowers for Laura and drove back home, in all honesty, to die. I was planning to take a long hike with a big bottle of fine bourbon and be done with it. A cowards way out.

I carried the bottle all the way home in my lap, caressing it, wanting so badly to open it. At that point, between the pink elephants, hobbits and dwarves, it was hard to drive home and even more difficult to open the bottle while driving. I sat at the bottom of our drive, holding the bottle. I got out of the truck, pulled the cork, and poured the whole bottle onto the ground. I drove up our drive, mostly in the ditch and found my wife shaking in tears and anger and above all else, disappointment. She asked where I wanted to go. I talked with my counselor and my PCP and they both recommended rehab. Immediately. Right now.

So, I entered rehab. Almost numb with pain, vomiting every few minutes, I sweated and screamed for two days. No medication, no IV’s for fluids, no surgery to remove ascites. Nothing. A bed with no covers. A shower with no doors. A shitter with no lid. No belts, no shoe laces. No sporks. No alone time. No food save for a three ties a day buffet of microwaved, pre-packaged shit from China.

My third day there, I had managed the worst of the DT’s without dying and it seemed I might make it a little longer. Maybe. If I didn’t drink at all, ever again. Never. I agreed. I went home. Laura came to pick me up. We didn’t have much to say to one another. We were both broken, drained and hopeless. We both felt abandoned, betrayed and our trust was nonexistent.

Day by day, we carefully made our way forward. We were walking hand in hand tonight near our new home, enjoying the unexpected heat and humidity after our years in the mountains. We didn’t say much. We didn’t have too. She holds my hand now. I give her massages. Nolan has become the center of my universe, my reason for living. Support arrived from unexpected directions in the form of a famous Chef who took me in when no one else would. My wife’s aunt made me a prayer blanket. People started to read my blog and kind of cheer me on. I’m too private, stubborn and proud to make much of it, but I was thankful for every day. I was thankful to go to work at 4:00 a.m. to start breakfast. Little things began to matter and I slowly began to find myself.

One year later, is it better? YES!! Has it been easy? NO. Quitting is the easy part. Making amends and rebuilding faith is the hard part. Regaining your trust in yourself is hard, even harder than building trust in your loved ones. You are your own worst enemy sometimes.

Then there are those days: When it seems none of that happened. When your son, a toddler now, is “helping” on every project you are working on, from changing filters to canning to butchering to gardening to eating to everything. My son, Nolan, has become my shadow, my reason for sobriety. My wife, Laura, has become my loving wife once more, still wounded from years of lies and self-doubt and broken promises. My family is recognizing me once more. My wife is startled by my abilities that I though nothing of. I can hand split and hew rails. Shape rocks, mix my own cement, split all our own wood, take care of our son and keep him safe and clean and cared for.

Me? I’m happy. The past is just that, the past. Do I still have nightmares? Sure. Do I still crave alcohol? NO! That just simply does not fit into the new/old Ron’s life anymore.

Plus, while I was in rehab I saw an angel. Not a glowy kind. There were no wings or feathers or swords. But she knew me. My past, my childhood. The forgotten years. She KNEW me. She talked to me for some time. Out of curiosity, I followed her out the door, hoping to see her walk down the hall, stop at the nurses station and say hello. She was not there. I asked if anyone had seen her – my vitals were checked immediately. I was ok. Startling ok. Well enough to release the next day ok.

I returned home broken, barely salvageable. Nolan insisted on being held throughout lunch. I cried into his soft blond hair for things lost, memories gone, time past. I cried for the girl who slashed here wrists my last night there so she could avoid going home. I cried for the beautiful woman beside me, whom I married, the woman who loved me enough to have my child.

It was a long way back, and we’re not there yet. But we’re on a new road, one that is exciting and unpredictable and will undoubtably have potholes and rough patches. But we don’t care. We’re in this together now.

August 19th, 2014. Year One

RM

Biscuits and Heritage

I’ve been obsessing a bit lately over heritage. Where am I from? Who were my ancestors? Most importantly, how did they eat? Family history tells me that we were most likely from the Highlands of Scotland, validated a bit by my rare blood type, shared by two of my three brothers. Leave a family alone long enough, without money to bind them to the past, and they will invariably invent their own history. It is somehow cool to be from Scotland, of course. It is now favorable to be a descendant of one of the many tribes of Native Americans, whose own heritage has been wrenched from them, retooled and made safer for textbooks. The same for Scottish, Italian, African, Indian, Asian or anyone else who wasn’t white enough to qualify, somehow. The land of opportunity was indeed just that, despite the major obstacles facing all these immigrants.

I’m not here to talk about something so political. I don’t have the knowledge, understanding, will or disposition to enter into such volatile territory. Nope. I’m here to talk about Appalachian food, something else that is being irretrievably lost in many mountain families with the proliferation of fast food into the hills and valleys of the so-called “Poverty-Stricken.” Fifty years ago, these people would have not agreed with such a classification, and no doubt would have, and did, take great offense with the notion they were “poor” in the eyes of city folk. They didn’t think they were poor, and honestly, no one really gave a shit about race. Oh, there were a few, as there are everywhere, loud buffoons with enough money and political clout to make themselves a representative of an entire geographical area, which in this instance stretches from Georgia to Main. The great Appalachian Mountains. The oldest mountain range on earth. Home to wildlife most haven’t seen, sustaining communities from Boone, NC to Hurley, VA to Get Lost, VA and further north, through the coal fields and increasingly rugged terrain until it meets the sea.

That is where I grew up. That is where my heritage is. You don’t get to choose as a child who your parents are, or where you are born-n-raised, but you can choose to keep that heritage close and honor it.

You can remember the smell of honeysuckle, fresh cut hay, Virginia Creeper, snow white Trilliums, brilliant Indian Paintbrush, peach blossoms and zucchini blooming, which will quickly be an absolute nuisance. We would can, pickle, eat them raw, eat the blossoms and those damn plants would still have vegetables running out our ears. We proud of our black sorghum, slowly boiled and stirred by the old method, using a donkey on a long pole who would walk endless circles with the patience only a donkey can, giving rides to local kids, knowing full well that his share would be a big bucket of molasses, black as tar

An early morning, just before daybreak breeze, redolent with morning glory, locust blossoms, scarlet paintbrushes, fresh cut hay and clover will make me open my eyes quick. Then you listen for the first birds, while you are still bundled in your blankets against the night, cozy and warm. The owl will bid you a good day, the crows will wake to harass everyone around them, like grumpy old drunks seeking a whiskey barrel. But it was the thump and groaning of an old wood stove and the smell of side meat that would roust me from my bed faster than finding a snake sharing my blankets. That did happen once and that was one unlucky snake. He was between me and the stove.

As humans, we remember extremes the best. Old timers tell of how it used to snow until the eaves were the only thing showing. They had to wallow into the punch mouth mines with their mouths closed to keep from choking on mud. They’d have to send in canaries to make sure they could breath. The working conditions actually were horrendous, but there was the satisfaction of a days wage hard earned. Easily said in retrospect, but working hard for what you had built a kind of pride and sense of heritage that cannot be duplicated.

I remember those early mornings best. Grandma never used a recipe that I ever saw. She would get the fire going with coals left over from the day before, then boil coffee on the eyes closest to the stove. While she sipped her coffee, planned her day, deciding by the moon and stars and other signs which vegetables were ready to pick, which chicken needed to be in a pot and how much wood would be needed for cooking and coal for heating the home. I would take my seat with my back to the old leaded glass window, sagging in age, and anxiously wait for breakfast. My clock was ticking too. Chickens needed to be fed, gardens weeded, berries picked (a big source of my walking around money) yards mowed, ditches dug, and always, always wood to be split.

At the right moment, she would spring into action. Ok, at nearly 80 and wearing slippers, she never really “sprang” anywhere. It was more of a swish of her old night robe and slippers on the uneven floor. She would place fat side meat in one skillet to fry up for “eatin meat” and butter the other with an ungodly amount of butter. She kept lard in the fridgedare (her words) and would cut it into even chunks with her giant razor sharp knife. Nearly as long as her, that knife was basically a razor. Grandpa stropped it every night on his belt.

She would pour flour in an old wooden bowl, then work the lard into the flour using an old rusty pastry cutter. When that started to look like sand, or dirt if there was a bit of residual cookin’ bits left in, she would add heavy cream, stirring with an old wooden spoon until it was right. Out of the bowl, onto the old countertop that doubled as a chopping block, the dough would then be kneaded gently, rolled into a long fat rope twice (more than that and you break the biscuit, she told me). She would then pull the screeching hot cast iron skillet out of the wood oven with a wet rag, never a dry one, despite my attempts to explain thermodynamics to her and drop the gently molded biscuits onto the pan.

The fatback would then come out of the other skillet, flour would go in and coffee would be added at the last second, beaten with a fork until it was smooth. Biscuits smothered with red-eye gravy, fresh runny eggs gathered that morning by my Grandpa, who had already been up and at work for hours, pork side meat and a peach or three, washed down with the strongest coffee I’ve still have yet to encounter, with eggshells floating around the top, was one hell of a breakfast.

Decades later, I was asked at four in the morning, “Can you make biscuits??” We were out of frozen biscuits. A serious emergency to our kitchens claim of “Fresh homemade biscuits every morning!” I dug around in these old memories, and yes, I could still make biscuits.

My Grandmother is proud, I have no doubt. So, I showed Nolan how to make them:

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Shame In Mississippi

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I’m embarrassed by my last trip to Mississippi. Not by one of the greatest states of the South, I love it with all my heart. I’m embarrassed by myself.

Maybe it was too much alcohol. That is very likely. Sporting a hangover and DT’s for one of the first times in my life, I had agreed to go to this Southern Mecca with a truly great friend of ours who was kind enough to take us to his hometown, introduce us to all his friends and family, take us to his favorite bar: An out in the woods, bud-light and whiskey only, smoke inside or out, no air conditioning, clapboard, gotta know someone to get in, loud, real, might-get-shot redneck bar. The kind of place that would make “Roadhouse” look just as fake and stupid as it is.

You bet your ass that was a run on sentence. I don’t know how else to write it. Our adventure started at our house in Eggleston, VA, progressed to somewhere in TN, then landed for a night smack dab in the middle of Memphis. I felt at home on Beale street, with my fancy trendy way-to-new slip on hiking sandals with lots of straps, pressed shorts and fat guy shirt. We ate and drank and listened to music until my wife and I stumbled back to our hotel. My wife’s buddy (she knew him first, and he had to approve of me), let’s call him Nic, shut down the bar, listed his way home, then took us to breakfast. I knew I had a problem with alcohol then, but I liked it too much to quit, and by then sobering up hurt too damn bad anyway. The music and vibe was great on Beale Street, don’t get me wrong. What was wrong was that I, around hundred of tourists listing about, with their I heart TN shirts, cameras, shorts and lily white legs, fit in.

We drove down to Tupelo after our behemoth breakfast first thing, which I could not enjoy with my stomach rolling at each look at a plate. It was “Big Mommas Place,” I think.   I took the first shift driving since I knew it would be all downhill from there. A couple of hours later, I was right. We arrived at Nic’s sisters home just in time for me to take a slice off the shakes and tremors with something that no doubt was very expensive. By then I didn’t care. Drain cleanser would have been fine by me, as long as there was alcohol in it. We ate ribs somewhere, I wandered about the house to find the owner of the place sitting on his front porch, dressed in a pajama suit, slippers and robe; reading a John Grisham novel, smoking a cigar and drinking fine Scottish Whiskey. I joined in, and he left me an hour or so later in my drunken glory, drinking by myself under the front porch light while the meanest mosquitos I had ever seen took turns dive bombing me. I felt like England in WWII.

The next morning I found that England looked a lot better after the war than I did. We waded around in a pool until I felt well enough to travel. Nic raised his eyebrows a bit over my condition, but like any good friend, didn’t say much. He did suggest that we not drink that night.

His suggestion was ignored. We arrived in Tupelo and I was hell bent on getting a drink on. Sweating and obnoxious, wearing an even more obnoxious fat guy shirt, I was first led to a trendy new bar, where all the waitresses had on tiny football team shirts, boob jobs and lots of glitter. They sold shots at two bucks a shot, circulating with trays full for people like me. On a self-identification free fall, and drank until they pulled me out of that bar to go to the “real” bar. The one mentioned earlier.

It took Nic an inordinate amount of time to find it. Reflecting on it tonight, with my feet up and my wife and son asleep beside me, I am a bit ashamed. Hell, I’m mortified. If I were in AA I would just go find a fence post in Mississippi and apologize to it. You see, I had left my heritage behind on that trip. Only one side trip for unknown food (crawdads and alligator), more alcohol than Anthony Bourdain in Thailand and those stupid ass flowered shirts from Jos A Banks. I would have shot me too. Turns out Nic was hoping I would sober up a bit before we landed headfirst in a bar that could have walked straight out of my hometown. The air was so humid it was like swimming. Bugs doubled as flying dinosaurs. Who knew those things were still around? We were in the middle of nowhere, in a field, in a clapboard structure that only sold pork rinds (in a bag) for bar food, was stacked with pool hustlers of all shapes, colors and sizes and was cash only. Of course I didn’t have cash. I had an AmEx, which my wife wisely panned from me, three maxed out credit cards and an outfit that screamed “Fat White Guy on Vacation.”

The band was amazing, and fucking LOUD. The place was nearly coming apart at the seams. Everyone was smoking. I disdainfully turned down an unfiltered cigarette from a very large, very intimidating, very sincere man with a mullet. I pissed him off. I complained. There was no food. I scoffed at the beer. I wanted single malt. They didn’t have any. They had rye whiskey and Bud Light. I started to slightly sober up and became more obnoxious. Nobody can hear me anyway, I shouted when my wife suggested that I turn down the volume a bit. I didn’t. Everyone there, and I mean everyone, was wearing worn boots still dirty from the day or some sort of eighties footwear. For some unknown reason, I thought that was funny. Worse, I even pointed it out.

I’ve written before about the day I was accused of “Being a Damn Yankee.” I managed to have just enough sense about me to dodge a major ass beating by agreeing that I liked it “Just fine here in the South.” Looking at myself in the mirror, I was shocked into silence and some semblance of sobriety to realize that I was the one being made fun of here. I didn’t fit in. At all. Worse still, I didn’t recognize me either.

A year or so later, I sobered up. It’s been one year now since I’ve had a drink of any kind. My work jeans flannel shirts and boots are worn enough to raise eyebrows in most cities. I remember my years as a coal miner, day laborer, drill monkey, carpenter, trailer dweller and enjoyed my time as a dishwasher, prep cook, truck unloader and breakfast cook. A woman a few years older than me taught me how to properly clean a kitchen again. I cleaned toilets, lit myself on fire and worked until I was hospitalized. Then went back again. Why? Because of that day in Mississippi. I am who I am yall, and I aint shamed. I wanted to meet that guy again. The guy that superglued the tip of his finger back on, wrapped in black MSHA approved mining tape and kept working. The one who shook a copperhead off his hand as if it were a mosquito. The wood splitter. The backwoodsman. The reader, the quiet one. The one who took no greater pleasure out of life than to work as hard as I could, all day long, then still have the energy to kiss my wife and play with my boy. My wife had not met that person.

If the state will have me, I’m going to go back. I’m going to find the biggest damn redneck with the most honest mullet, cut off sleeves, boots still shit caked from the day, let my accent fly, apologize to him for all my wrongs and by him as many drinks as he wants. I’ll smoke his hand rolled cig, even if it kills me. I’ll marvel at his work ethic, world-be-damned attitude, admire his mud truck and let him know I’m from the South. Appalachian Mountains, to be exact. Near Hurley, VA to be even more exact. Used to have one of them trucks. A ‘burban. Diesel. Rollin on Forties. Beat up. travelled and lived in. We will no doubt connect and most likely be cousins.

My boots need a little more breakin’ in first. They fairly broke in now, but don’t have no shit on ‘em. Soon as I get done kilt this pig, I fix that proper.

No puns intended. Hell, I’m sorry ’bout all the ‘cussin. Momma took to ‘raisen me better en at. Soon as I feel worthy, I’ll come back, Tupelo. It’s me again this time. You may not have recognized me then, but you will now.

With my boots on.

Open Fire Cooking

Originally posted on Ramblin Ron:

I’m a huge fan of cast iron cookware. My wife and I inherited her Grandmother’s cast iron skillet when we were married, which belonged to her mother before that. I love the even heat, the durability, the non-stick functionality of a properly seasoned pan and even the weight. A common complaint about cast iron, I find that the sheer weight of the pots and pans gives me a psychological satisfaction in cooking. I feel like I can do no wrong when I’m cooking in cast iron!

I’ve also grilled for many years, beginning in earnest while I was in graduate school at Radford University. We were all dirt poor and a close friend of mine who is a true grill master discovered that we could get all the free drinks we could ever want if we threw a party and grilled. Cheap and easy, we learned to break down whole…

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Time and Place

My feet find and retrace the steps of those left before me. Of that much I am certain, maybe in this lifetime, most likely by humans, but certainly by my kindred spirits, the deer, fox, rabbit, coyotes and this time of year, the bear. I see his footprints ahead of me, briefly in the earth exposed by last night’s rain where the runoff had dislodged the forest debris for a few feet before the water infiltrated into the ground in the endless cycle of our hydrosphere. I glance overhead reveals what I suspect: The humidity is high enough to keep water from evaporating and it is still raining, if you will, under the canopy of trees overhead. A squirrel chatters for a moment, startled out of its self-reverie long enough to fuss over my observation of his vanity.

It was not always this way for me. As a child and teenager, trail running wasn’t a sport or an event. My parents didn’t take me to cross-country practice, nor did I try out for track until I was fifteen years old. I ran out of sheer enjoyment. I loved to follow the small trails, traces of semi-bare dirt through the Appalachian Plateau, pretending that I was an Indian delivering news from one village to another. Perhaps a Scottish warrior, running in pursuit of another tribe for glory or retribution or both.

Perhaps I would be a soldier in WWII, running for his life above the Cliffs of Etretat in France after D-Day, marked as a traitor by the German SS and being followed for the knowledge that I carried. In my imagination, I was many things, but rarely was I content to just be what I actually was, a young boy running on the same trails that my predecessors had no doubt ran on, winding their way through the Appalachian Mountains into North Carolina and the Coastal Regions beyond.

Running was the best way to navigate long distances in Appalachia before fossil fuels forever altered modes of transportation and the landscape itself, violently and disdainfully cutting across ancient terrain delicately balanced by the local ebb and flow of life, a part of the larger ecosystem that was lost and is still being lost at an alarming rate.

Transportation before development was relatively slow in Appalachia. It could take days to go from one village to another. Population centers could be close, as a crow flies, but navigating the steep and sometimes impassable geography was difficult. Despite the limited influence of the Spaniards on Appalachia, the horse never became the symbol of wealth that it did for the Plains Indians, becoming instead a bit of a burden to the owners. Like owning a Lamborghini, I suppose. Traveling on foot was much faster.

The footing underneath becomes a bit more tenuous and I no longer think of anything else. My pace becomes a crawl and I can no longer imagine myself as being anything other than what I am. Forty years old, with a small son and a wife, questionable health; I am really not supposed to be “running” anywhere. Years of habit though are creeping back in to my life as my health improves and I move easier and more lightly. The pure enjoyment of running is as addictive as nearly anything else. I’ve had more broken bones than anyone I know, more surgeries than I care to count and a bum ankle. But damn it feels good to be jogging along under my own steam again.

I’m not exactly transported back in time, nor do I see through the eyes of a younger me, or anything so spiritual. I’m reminded of my age, injuries and bad decisions. I keep thinking of what an older coal miner once told me: “I would have taken better care of myself had I known I’d live this damn long.” But I do have a few moments where smells and faint breezes do remind me of being young again, of running just for the sake of running, not thinking of my health, or the danger of flinging myself headlong down a mountain trail, nor worrying about money or bills. I would just run.

My favorite run was to my grandmother’s house. It was a short run, just down the mountains a piece, as she would say. I would call her excitedly at night on the party line, waiting impatiently until she could shuffle to the phone. “I’m on my way Grandma!” I would exclaim, leaving the line open and dangling as I shot out the door, down the steps and bolted down the mountain in the darkness, heedless of the footing or lack of light. There is always just enough light to see by in the darkness of night. Especially when you pretend that monsters are chasing you.