Beyond the Commonplace, Week #7, 2014

Fatigued by last week's single digit temps, today, the weather -no longer mired in its saturnine winter- is blissful by comparison. February, normally the coldest month on record for our part of the country, is now hovering around temperatures in the mid-sixties. Our clairvoyant weathermen are predicting much of the same this week but our prognosticators have been wrong many times before; regardless, we're reveling in the relief. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I snap almost all of my photos while on my regular runs around the neighborhood. I run at a pace that is equivalent to 180 BPM's, music being the prime mover in my life (in addition to photography). Both serve as the fulcrums I need to compel my burdensome and reluctant carcass roadward to pound pavement for a few miles. I run, generally, four miles per run (slowly getting back into the swing of things after crossing the 1,500 mile threshold). A mid-day run challenges my creative sight. Sunsets are my favorite time to run but, due to the warmer temps, I couldn't resist getting out earlier than usual. I love this particular shot (above). Not because it is exceptional but precisely because it isn't, there is nothing unique about it (at first glance). At this point in my run, I was nearly finished but felt as though I really could have taken more photos. I challenged myself to look around until I saw something beautiful or at least something beyond the commonplace. If you were to stand with me on this spot and see the area I surveyed, you would be impressed that I found this solitary tree standing out among its smaller siblings (the surrounding countryside leaving much to be desired). There was something stark and imaginative about its shape. It seemed, at any moment, like something mystical could happen around that solitary tree, like the beginning of a fable or fantastic story. I expected the smaller trees, sentries in their uniform assembly, to bow at any minute to the center tree, acknowledging the stately crown of its extended branches...

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I run on pavement and dirt roads. My 'kicks', a pair of trail running shoes (no socks) are the most comfortable running shoes I have ever worn. Trail running shoes are the equivalent of a mountain bike, its tread allowing for easier traction on dirt and rock. This dirt road (pictured above) is a narrow-laned stretch of dirt that is one of the most picturesque roads that I travel. The road lifts gently toward the setting sun, the fields surrounding it brim with the frenetic flits of birds in song, the gentle grazing of cows and keen oversight of hawks being the most common sight along this path. I often pause on this road, turn off my headphones, and just stand to listen, always reluctant to leave. The wheat fields are practically pelagic, so far from the maddening crowd, they almost convince me we have heaved-to and float oceanic, miles from civilization. I recently finished reading Moby Dick and was reminded of the passage when the sailors first took to the sea: "Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? ... Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all."

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When I pass this windmill along Highway 4, I often think of the magnificent windmills of Holland and how man has attempted to harness wind power for boats, for water, and even for channeling prayers. This iconic statuary of the plains stands as a stark reminder of the pervasiveness of wind. For a runner, wind is an unconquerable foe. It is never a matter of whether there is wind (it's a wild anomaly when there is no wind) it is only a matter of how bitter the squall. I am often swindled by the wind. I step outside, begin running, and think (to my delight) "there is no wind" only to realize -usually a few miles into my run- that the wind was at my back but barely perceptible. Only on the return flight will I realize my friend is now my enemy, a battle raging against me, the onslaught of which I can only counter at 45 degree angles.

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These particular horses belong to a neighbor down the street, I encounter these beautiful creatures and their riders (occasionally) during my runs, most frequently this past fall. The neighbors would often ride their horses to the local Sonic to get a Coke. I smile every time I see them, considering the astonished Sonic employee trying to deliver curbside sodas to their equine guests, remembering the line from a poem by Frederico Garcia Lorca, "One day, the horses will live in the saloons". (Speaking of horses, I highly recommend Out Stealing Horses by the Norwegian author Per Petterson, it is an immaculate, moving narrative).

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Willa Cather belongs to my Golden Guild, or Fraternal Order of Favorite Authors, (The Professor's House, my favorite Cather book). I relate to Willa Cather because of the similarities in geography. Cather's beloved Nebraska resembles Oklahoma, its sustenance and lifeblood found on farms, in fields, and embodied in the rugged nature of the men and women who cultivated such seemingly desolate country. Cather's prose and poetry is consummate simplicity, sparse without seeming lonely. Her words and phrases evoke the eloquence of a bygone, guileless era. Her poem  "Prairie Spring" rings reminiscent of Oklahoma sunsets:

Evening and the flat land,
Rich and sombre and always silent;
The miles of fresh-plowed soil,
Heavy and black,
full of strength and harshness;
The growing wheat, the growing weeds,
The toiling horses, the tired men;
The long empty roads,
Sullen fires of sunset, fading,
The eternal, unresponsive sky.
(Out of respect for copyright laws I did not reproduce the poem in its entirety, you can read the remainder of the poem, here).