“Touch the earth, love the earth, her plains, her valleys, her hills and her seas; rest your spirit in her solitary places. For the gifts of life are the earth’s and they are given to all and they are the songs of the birds at daybreak, Orion and the Bear and the dawn seen over the ocean from the beach. When Pleiades and the wind in the grass are no longer a part of the human spirit, a part of very flesh and bone, man becomes as it were, a kind of cosmic outlaw, having neither the completeness and integrity of the animal nor the birthright of true humanity.” – Henry Beston
A mountain to be climbed, a river to be rafted or a stretch of countryside to be raced on can summon up significance and power for us simply by being designated the field of adventure. When we see the pure deep woods, the fertile wide-open fields, the towering rock ridges, spattered with clusters of clinging trees, or an endless blue horizon merging into a glassy blue lake, we are overwhelmed with excitement — and a profound compulsion to run — because we have no wings to fly. Just to run on light feet through the majestic landscape for mile after mile and hour after hour like an animal in the forest.
Our runs in these dreamlike places are a way of giving thanks to Mother Earth. They bring a quickening of the spirit, a connection with the life force and a concentration of energies that give our experiences out there a heightened quality.
What I’m speaking about goes well beyond having an emotional reaction to a piece of scenery. It is standing innocently in the presence of Her and allowing yourself to be impacted by Her Wisdom with no ulterior designs. This kind of openness requires a very creative effort but anyone who’s sincere can succeed.
The Earth as a Source of Help.
Think of how the rise of flowering plants once changed the nature of the living world by providing oxygen and concentrated food sources for birds and mammals to sustain themselves. In running there is an energetic contact with life from which we can draw this same sustenance, much like the survival impulse we share with all living things. It depends not just on exerting with our bodies, but on exercising our gratitude for what we have received. Our part is to be thankful for what The Earth has given us.
We are truly blessed by the leisure time we have to push our legs and lungs to the ends of The Earth. Such efforts make us more independent, more accustomed to hardships and unflinching with discomfort— qualities that nourish a very deep thing inside us that can lend an existential bent to running and to life. Yet even this positive striving can eventually become hollow and vainglorious if it leads to self-absorption. The truly reconciling part we have to play in the whole action is to be just as strident in our response to the endangerment of our planet.
The sense of wonder and awe elicited by The Earth’s great beauty invites people to redirect concern away from the self and toward everything else. Those adventurous souls who have been touched by this quiet sense of awe and power tend to act more generously and ethically, since they feel a deeper connection to others and the world in general.
I hope you will take time during your daily runs this week to express your love for The Earth. Get your legs muddy and deepen your resolve to support the many first responders who are already making a difference out there. I believe this is more than a moral imperative. It’s the debt of our existence.
The Ultimate Training Ground
Every day is Earth Day for agile minded trail runners with their feet on the ground. The Earth makes us strong, flexible and tough. Strong because the combination of leg lift and stride length required to run through the patches of mud, rocky surfaces, soft sand, dense grasses or shallow creeks… — even while attacking a howling headwind — builds our strength and oxygen power better than any gym on the planet. Flexible because the earth stretches every muscle for us with every stride. Our hips, knees, ankles and feet learn to move flexibly over every kind of surface and respond to every surprise the terrain holds. Tough because our willingness to traverse almost any terrain, whether remote, mud-sodden ground, plowed fields, snow fields, or scree fields, to leap lightly over tree roots, balance on boulders, deftly navigate sharp switchbacks, and evade muddy bogs (or tromp right through them), shapes us into hardier people and better runners.