Mud: Sacred Rite of Spring

March 1. When I started up the trail in early Sunday morning, it was still close to freezing, but my running shoe cracked through a thin layer of frozen crust into a couple inches of red mud. It was a thrilling sensation, a sure sign of Spring.

All week the temperature was in the 40s, melting down the snow that has covered the trail for almost three months. It's been a grey winter, not that cold, but plenty snowy. I keep a half-assed journal of my runs with elapsed time, temperature, milestones along the trail, and sometimes heart rate. I have plodded over light powder, snow mobile-packed corduroy, deep wet cement, ice and rotting crust, in rain-snow mix, blizzard conditions, graupel squalls and clear, frigid air. The coldest run was 9 degrees. The only sound on most runs was the wind or caw of a raven.
Once when the snow was falling hard, it was like running through a silent white tunnel. It reminded me of a short poem Basho wrote in the 12th century in "Narrow Road to the Deep North":

Deep as the snow is,
Let me go as far as I can
Till I stumble and fall,
Viewing the white landscape.

I love winter, but the short, dark days get old. Seasonal affective disorder (SADS) and cabin fever aren't imaginary. Going to work in the dark, coming home in the dark makes you want to hibernate, but you can't. Unlike a bear, it's not in your nature. The dark makes you want to go to bed too early and sleep too long. Some part of your brain remembers the warm Africa Savannah where we originated a long, long time ago. Your body longs for sun and warmth.

The animals feel the spring change too. I smelled a skunk, and cattle are calving on the ranch below. The small birds, like Chickadees and Towees, are coming back. I heard them for the first time, flitting in the bushes. Here and there small herds of deer foraged amid the sweet smelling sage in patches where the snow is gone. Soon they will go back up to the high country because the sun will beat down, making it too hot for them. But today, it is just right. In the warm sun they relax a little. Every warm-blooded mammal gives a sigh of relief.

It was a hard winter for the deer and elk. There are signs of winterkill, bones left along the trail, pieces of shrunken, torn hide. The coyotes have been scavenging. Most deer and elk die from hunger and the cold, a few from mountain lions and poachers. Coyotes don't do most of the killing, but much of the cleanup. The Navajo say, "Coyote waits. And coyote is always hungry." They are opportunistic, just like us.

A tuff old jock offers this poem for you:

Skunks, birds, sage,
the snow reveals its bones.
The Great Wheel of Birth and Death
turns silently again,
my running shoes are muddy.
PS: Go to tuff old jock on Facebook and join the tuff old jock group. It's painless and free. You will find exhilaration, inspiration and motivation.

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