Apologies to anyone who might be following this blog, I haven’t had time to post in a few months, having started a new job recently. The work is interesting, my new colleagues friendly, and it’s exciting to have the chance to make a difference. As an aside, the job requires frequent travel to Dallas, which is a change of pace from the Hudson Valley and a nice place to spend some time in the winter. True, there have been a few cold days with rainy gray skies and temperatures in the 30s (perfect hypothermia conditions if you were wandering around outside), and sometimes the northern wind comes howling across the flat open prairie so hard it might knock you over. But a few days later, the sun’s back out, the winds have calmed, and the temperature’s soaring into the 70s. And the next morning I’m surprised when the car thermometer reads 24 F…
The headquarters of my new company has an open layout and a colorful atmosphere. A group of artists was invited to visit the facility and each provided with a blank wall and given total freedom. In one case an executive was disturbed by a Pepto-Bismal colored panel and ordered it painted over, but otherwise, the art has been left undisturbed. Walk around and you will a wild assortment of images. Across from my new office, the image of reclining individual with cubist head and prominent feet.
The headquarters building is located in the midst of suburban corporate sprawl: large box buildings, each adorned with neon logo and surrounded by vast parking lots, and alongside the roads curve wide sidewalks that no-one ever walks upon. It’s a sprawl that strangely reminds me of the gravel alluvial fans spilling onto the playas in Death Valley. As I drive back and forth between hotel and work, I find myself eyeing those curvy paths (the smooth surfaces look so inviting for an easy jog).
Amidst the concrete there are patches of natural environment. Behind the parking lot at work, a vacant field full of dried spiky balls. This may be Torrey’s rush.
Acting strategically, I staid over one weekend in early December in order to participate in the BMW Dallas 1/2 Marathon. It was gray, windy, and cool at the start (in the low 30s), and the pavement felt cracked and rough, so I took it easy for the first few miles, but as the day warmed and the surface began to feel more familiar, I gradually picked up the pace and by the last mile was running quickly and passing people, when suddenly a young fellow overtook me from behind. This wasn’t appropriate, so I ran really hard and left him in the dust. Unfortunately this momentary glory came with a steep price, namely a flare-up in the sore ankle that is finally feeling better two months later.
Giving the ankle some time to recover, I looked for places to hike. One favorite is the LBJ Grasslands about an hour north of town. A mix of tawny grasslands and scrubby oak and cedar forest. In certain places expansive views across the plains. The paths are soft dirt and sand in many places, sometimes chewed up by horse hooves, sometimes covered with fallen oak leaves, and here and there a scattering of sharp-edged limestone fragments or a prickly burr. Many little things to see if you pay attention, including a different mix of lichen from what I’m accustomed to in the Hudson Valley: hoary rosette lichen growing on the bark of post oaks, lobes shiny gray lichen with huge brown cup-shaped apothecia; cartilage lichen with long leaf-like structures covered with suckers (more apothecia); slender orange bush, a bushy fruticose lichen with bright orange disks sprouting from tangled tendrils.
I spent a whole day hiking around the grasslands, encountering a few equestrians but no other hikers, and covered 15 miles. The forests, I noticed, are tangled up with saw greenbriers, which not only have sharp thorns but also tendrils that secure them to neighboring branches, making them impossible to get through. I took a couple of steps off the path and got cut on the knee. In 1836 a family living on the Texas frontier was raided by Comanche Indians and had to escape through the tangled river bottoms:
We started through the thickly entangled briars and underbush in the direction of the settlement. My wife was in very delicate health. Mrs. Frost’s grief at the loss of her husband and son was inconsolable; and all being barefooted, except my wife and Mrs. Frost, our progress was very slow. Many of the children had nothing on but a shirt; and their sufferings from the briars tearing their flesh and wounding their feet, was almost beyond endurance….
It was evident that the Indians were hunting us; and like the fox in the fable, we were again compelled to take to the river bottom; for though the brambles did indeed tear our flesh, yet they preserved our lives from danger. Repeatedly, yes, in some places, every few steps, did I see the briars tear the legs of the little children until the blood trickled down so that they could have been tracked by it.
— John W. Parker
Another favorite spot near Dallas is the Northshore Trail alongside Grapevine Lake. It’s near my hotel, so on a couple of occasions I’ve gotten in an early morning run. There’s plenty of sand and smooth dirt, and just enough gravel and roots to make it challenging. The rough surface is teaching me to take smaller steps, keep the knees bent, and relax the feet.
Inlet on Grapevine Lake
The ankle is starting to feel a little better. The Fort Worth Cowtown 1/2 marathon is coming up soon, and I’ll be back for the New York City 1/2 marathon in March. And if I can keep my enthusiasm in check and the ankle in one piece, I’m hopeful of running a full marathon again one of these days.