Sometimes you just know when it’s right

I felt sure this morning the thermometer was telling lies. It read 48 degrees, but the chill in the air felt positively Siberian. Woodstove weather. Harvest weather. Count the hay bales, fill the root cellar, oh my golly we’d better get ready-for-winter weather.

I, no doubt, was overreacting. But there are signs the seasons are turning. Autumn once again knocks at the door. The leaves on the very tops of the sourwoods have a reddish hue. Birds seem a little more frenzied at the feeders. I have redeveloped a hunger for hot soups, stews and casseroles, whole-wheat bread slathered with butter and honey, pinto beans accompanied by slices of cornbread, cobbler drowned in vanilla ice-cream.

Loving to eat good food topped by a dollop of vanity is what drove me, finally, out of the warmth and into the chill for an early morning run. As usual these days, I headed down Ashe Loop to nearby Fairview Road in Sylva.

Recently I read somewhere that good runners associate, mediocre ones disassociate. In other words, good runners think about running when they run. They focus. They concentrate. The run is all.

I, on the other hand, disassociate. I think about stories that should already have been written but are not; phone calls I had intended to make but didn’t; items needing immediate attention that I’ve instead ignored.

As I understand it, one of the tenets of Zen Buddhism is mindfulness: living in the moment. Meditation helps one learn to live in the moment. So does focusing on doing the task at hand as well as possible. Washing dishes? Wash dishes, then, think about nothing else. Concentrate on each plate, cup, bowl, fork. Peeling potatoes? Peel them with attention. Carefully. Mindfully.

I like that concept. I like it a lot. Running, however, is often painful. I find it easier for now to focus on anything but the fact that my legs hurt, my breathing is labored, and that if I had kept running for the past few years I wouldn’t be in such distress now, starting over again.

This morning, rather than ruminate, I tried a new diversionary tactic. I chose to admire instead the tidiness of the homes in my new neighborhood. It is remarkable how well kept most of them are. Lawns neatly trimmed, fences taut and maintained, flowers deadheaded. The horses in the fields looked brushed, as did — unlikely as this surely is — several cows chewing on their cuds as I passed.

I wonder why some people take pride in their homes and property, and others not? A few miles away, in another neighborhood where I sometimes run, many of the homes are rundown, uncared for, unloved. There is trash in the yards. The grass is rarely cut.

It can’t be simply herd mentality, can it? My neighbor is a slob, so I’ll be one, too; my neighbor’s hedge is trimmed, so I’ll trim mine. Nor can income levels explain away the differences. I’ve known plenty of poor people who were neat, and plenty of financially secure people who were not.

A few weeks ago on Fairview Road, I saw five or six men getting a field of hay harvested. While one drove the tractor, the other men worked together loading the bales into a pickup truck.

I run slowly, and passed by on both my way out and my way back. This provided ample opportunities to observe them closely. The men worked without much conversation, as if they’d done this together many times before. There were no wasted movements, though a couple of the men took the time to call out hellos the first time I passed.

Each clearly had an assigned, understood and accepted role. One man drove the truck. Another stood in the truck’s bed and straightened each bale as the others pitched them up. I wondered, were these men part of a family who are used to getting the hay in together, who unite in the fields each year to prepare for winter as families in this region once routinely united?

One of my favorite writers on agrarian topics, British author H.J. Massingham, wrote that if a thing looks right, it is right.

Those men looked right, working there in the field together. The houses along this road look right: tended, cared for and loved. My running and being here, too, feels more and more right.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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