My running log for Tuesday, Nov. 11 says "cold run, 3.5 miles in 25:36. Ran through the Arb, ran to North Fields, back along Woodland." This is not the whole story. I took a run alone the other Tuesday on the same loop I did nearly three months ago, on my first run at Oberlin as a student. The turns and the terrain have become very familiar by now, but I always run this trail with a group of 3-10 guys, and rarely have time for reflection. As I watched my feet flit forward in front of me, left-right-left-right, I wondered how much I had learned. I remembered coming here my first day after my first night in Oberlin, and turning off of Professor Street and down a short, steep hill onto a little path through the grass and into some bushes. I still had doubts whether this faint path would lead anywhere, even though I've been on it half a dozen times. A thorn bush snagged my shoulder, exactly like it did three months prior. I realized I probably hadn't learned as much as I thought I had. I still had misgivings about this trail. As it twisted and turned behind big colorful Johnson House, it got so narrow and overgrown that I contemplated (I always do) going back and taking the 'civilized' entrance to the Arb. I pressed on.
I recalled that first run, when I saw a member of the Cross Country team from afar. 'Dammit, I'm not gonna remember that guy's name,' I thought, shamefully. I saw his distinctive red hair and purple shorts, and knew I had met him the day before and actually talked to him for five minutes or something, but couldn't remember for the life of me what his name was. Thirty meters away and closing, a bolt hit me: Sam. Sam was his name. How did I remember that? Wow.
"Hi SAM!" I said, way too enthusiastically. He gave a greeting and a wave and ran on, probably really impressed at how I remembered his name. I sure was. I exited the Arb by way of a little bridge that crosses a creek (or crick, if you please) and took a loop around the pond in back of the old Oberlin Water Department, a scenic little detour that comes out by this weird depression that I've often scratched my head about. It's like a squared oval that sinks a foot or two in the ground, I assume for some water department related purpose. I just like running through it and pretending druids built it a few centuries ago.
I ran back along Cedar Street, towards the Cat in the Cream, the gym, and North Fields. The first day I ran here I went this same way, thoroughly convinced that I was lost and not going to find Oberlin until some time after registration had started and I would miss getting into any classes and they would just say 'well, you're gonna have to sit this semester out...' I saw the Cat, Wilder, and the Science Center once I turned onto Lorain Street. These had been welcome sights indeed during that panicky first run ever, but were still nice to see a whole quarter-year later. I ran between Allen hospital and the tennis courts, remembering times when I had taken my shoes off after some runs to feel the cool grass. I always feel faster in bare feet. Too bad it was 35 degrees during my latter run, I might have taken the opportunity to feel it again before it starts snowing. Oh well.
Around the perimeter of North Fields, I thought (naturally) about the meets that we'd had at Oberlin. The path I was taking during my run was the same path we take during races, in the reverse direction. I had only raced here once, while some freshmen had raced here three times total. I was here for conference championships, when our men's team finished so well, Joanna Johnson won the whole thing for the women's team, and I took about 400 pictures during the day. I had run over this same ground dozens of times in practice, and I imagine for some of the seniors their laps total in the hundreds. I realized this earth had a lot of history, just in the cross country team. A dozen races or so for seniors like Ryan, Connor, and Corey. Hundreds of practices, loads of team meetings. I passed the baseball diamond and thought that it probably has a hundred histories just as rich as those fields, as do the the locker rooms, which I passed next. My shorts that I had on have a history, for goodness sake! I marveled, remembering the spot of red paint I got on them while painting my girlfriend's bedroom.
Running past the gym, I mused: Oftentimes I have blown people off within minutes of meeting them, figuring that our personalities won't mesh and we really won't have anything to gain from each other. But that older guy in the white van has half a century's worth of experiences, that girl avoiding eye contact with me had been alive for more than 7000 days, just think of what she's seen (I was wearing tights, red-stained shorts, a T-shirt, no hat or gloves, and an expression that communicated my new epiphany. I would have avoided eye contact with me). The moody kid I saw this morning wearing a pea coat and bright blue striped pajama bottoms has a story 20 years long. I should have been more tolerant of his moodiness and eccentric dress. Especially at Oberlin, where anybody you see could be a nationally-ranked classical sousaphonist or a future MacArthur Grant winner, you can't take anybody for granted. I ran down Woodland Street with a light heart, past Mudd, and past Dascomb, and ran behind Harkness. I started going faster once I hit Harkness, just for fun. I went faster past the Environmental Studies Center, and faster across the street. I flew by an Asian girl who was pushing an empty dolly and averting her eyes (what the HELL are you doing pushing that dolly? Don't you know there are people to meet? Someone look me in the eyes so I can bless you with my insight!). I sprinted to the stones that make up the front steps of Fairchild, and let my momentum carry me up to the door. I pulled my plastic keycard out of my tights (yes, it had been rubbing me wrong the whole time), opened the door, and went up to my room.
Where I spent two hours on Facebook. It's all about connecting with people.