Running at Mill Creek
“What are you running from, girl?” the smiling bearded man asks as I pass him, near the spot where three planks jut out from the hillside. They might have been a bridge that might have crossed the creek. I can’t be sure. I don’t know their history. He’s running too, but not as fast as me, even though he’s probably better dressed for it with his track shorts and muscle shirt. But his beard is distinctly out of date, like the one my dad wore in the 70s.
“Just running,” I call back, and I keep going, as hard as I can and then slowing when the roots get too thick or the rocks too slippery, except across the patch of moss-covered stones where, just a few months ago, I slipped and I thought I might have broken my knee. I run like hell there. Just because.
When I come down the muddy slope to under the bridge where people write names—I wrote mine too once with a cast off Sharpie—someone has recently inked the word “Euphoria,” and I stop to touch it hoping for a portal to a mountain town or a British pub or anywhere that is else. But euphoria is just a word.
I get into the easy stretch, where the path is mostly flat and wide, and where it gets enough sun to dry it quickly from the rain and snow. It’s the safest stretch, and I think about his question, and I wonder if the bearded man wants my answer. That I’m running from love and stories and the words I can’t get to work right. That I’m running from the memory of my now mute daddy’s voice singing along with the Barry Manilow eight track. Me next to him in our Dodge Dart on our way to the American Legion where he’ll spend our Saturday afternoon drinking Stroh’s, and I’ll have Coca Cola and beer nuts and play shuffle bowling without needing any dimes. Or maybe I’m running to these things, looping like this trail.
The bearded man finds me again resting near the ravine, where the creek tumbles over sandstone into a near perfect circle of a pool and then tumbles again.
“Hey, it’s the running girl! Is this where you were running to?”
I take off my sunglasses so he can see my eyes. “It’s one of the places. Mostly I just like running in the woods.”
I want to but don’t tell him that I miss the woods near where I grew up, in this town, at the dead end of Chattanooga Street. Before 680 went in, we’d pass through those woods to Lake Park Cemetery, where mom taught us how to clear the weeds and grass off of my grandpa’s headstone. On the way back, we picked elderberries in tin buckets to take home and cook them up with sugar and Sure-Jell and press them steaming through cheese cloth and funnel into jars, topped with hot paraffin and then stored on the metal shelves my dad set up for a pantry.
I want to but don’t tell him that I ran in those woods before these ones. I raced so fast away from the chasing boys that once, when I was ten, I tripped over an unseen root and pierced my thumb near the bone on a piece of green bottle glass. The blood came fast, dripped hard onto the leaves, and caught me, so I held my hand up high and watched the red stripe darken down my pale arm in the dappled sunlight. These are some of the things I don’t tell.
“Well, this is a good one place to end up,” the bearded mans says, “The guy who made the park, this was his favorite spot.”
“Olmstead?” I ask.
“No, not him. The other guy. I can’t think of his name now. I probably will as soon as you’re gone.”
“Probably,” I laugh, “well, I should get on with my run,” I say.
“Jump on it.” He says back.
I start back up the trail, going slowly through most of this part where the path is uneven and narrow and the hillside steep, and I’m passing just under the rocky overhang, when I hear “Hey, running girl!” I turn. “Rogers. Volney Rogers. I remembered and wanted to tell you.” The bearded man waves and goes, running back on his way.
What am I running from? It could be that now I’m running because this story, our story, is beating in my head like my sneakered feet are beating this path. Maybe. Or maybe it’s just that this ground is soft and this creek keeps moving.