A paraduck. Such was the gift I received in a dream one night. A paraduck, I decided, was a cross between a duck and a parrot, because when I opened the gift, what came out looked like a duck, but spoke words like a parrot. The meaning of the paraduck is not as significant as what it said. At first, in its cage, it appeared aloof and somber as if someone had ripped its spirit and livelihood right out of it. It had nothing to live for; nothing to see, feel, or experience, save for the metal bars that cris-crossed the cage like a checkerboard. Sensing this, and feeling sorry for my new little creature friend, I asked if it wanted to be set free. Almost immediately, as if he were starring in the movie Braveheart, it began a frantic chant of “Freedom!” This simple little word exemplifies my life, and I feel all that is inherently included within our human nature. We are born to be wild; born to be free. In nature we are allowed, if we give ourselves the opportunity, to experience all that we were meant to. We are allowed to become a part of nature and become as wild as the deer in the forest, the bird in the air, the otter in the water, and the mole in the ground.

As I look back upon my life in reflection, I realize the blessing I have been given, yet never readily known until now, at least on a fully conscious level. Whereas my counterparts in the city got to hang out at the mall, go on long trips, or experience cultural activities, I was reduced to living a monotonous life, performing simple, yet tedious chores. It was during these times of rock picking, while the burning sun poured its radiant life giving light onto my back; during the numerous hours spent turning the soil, which was filled with abundant life, and watching the birds that would readily swoop down the make a noontime meal out of the living creatures in the earth; during the countless mornings when I would watch the vivid colors appear above the eastern horizon, as the sun slowly rose and brightened the sky, waking most things in its path with its golden rays; and during the evening hours, while the sun appeared to be slowly setting into the heavens, and then counting each star one by one as they appeared, until they became too numerous to count.  These times allowed me to develop a sense of appreciation for all things in nature. No, I didn’t get to experience everything my friends did, but I did get to experience life in all its beauty. However, merely sitting and watching the splendor of the landscape and the exquisiteness of nature was not enough for me. I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be in it. I wanted to be it. This is why running became my method of choice to spend my hours with the great outdoors.

Running afforded me the opportunity to improve my natural abilities for cross-country and track, and also to chase down all that I found attractive in life. Morning runs in the summer, before the sun got out of bed, were a treat that I can only explain like that of eating cheesecake with cherries on top. There was nothing better than to go out in the cool morning fog, with the scent of meadow filling the air, and watching, anticipating the first look of our ever-giving, ever-generous friend the sun. The brightness it carried with it always lead me to run in a direction that wasn’t facing it, so that it would warm my body from the sides or back and not blind me into oblivion. The meadowlarks, with their unique and beautifully crafted song, which was performed to perfection every time they sang, became my friends along the way as well. Their presence would only urge me to run faster, to catch everything I could while all was quiet and still, not dead but silent, and before the day was hustling and bustling with action. Evenings were just as much a blessing as the mornings. There is a creek that runs near our land and through my grandparents land, bringing its drink of life to that which is thirsty. After ¾ of a mile into my run, I would get the chance to cross the bridge that heads over it. I could always feel the temperature drop about 15 degrees in this valley when I ran through it, and it sent shivers down my spine. The shivers I experienced from the cold air would pale in comparison to the shivers I got emotionally and spiritually. They came from the endless symphony that would surround this majestic place. The chirping of crickets and croaks of frogs, seemingly trying to outdo the other species as I neared the bridge was (and still is) breathtaking. Sometimes I would slow up and creep closer, but as soon as I got within a certain distance - a distance that seems to be measured by a system that is only known to the animal kingdom (and is always strictly enforced), the orchestra stopped. It is as if they were teasing with my mind and curiosity; a sort of ‘hide-and-seek’ game that could never be won by me, though I would continue to try. The rest of the evening runs consisted of trying to chase down the sun. I would watch in awe, as I now travel west, as it morphed from being bright yellow to a glossy orange, and finally, during its final plunge and decent, a blood-red ball. The array of colors it left on the sky should only be described as picturesque; as if an artist had taken a brush and was painting a scene that was meant for God himself.

The evening runs were also a time of great peril, as those critters who normally take refuge from the sun’s light emerged from their dungeons to wreak havoc and destruction on grain fields and poultry barns. Once, during my run, I encountered such a gremlin. A noise I can only describe as being deathly grotesque and horrific stopped me dead in my tracks. Since, I could not see in the dark, I was forced to pedal backwards until I felt my nemesis was satisfied with the distance between us. I still don’t know what the animal was, but it was definitely not something to be toyed with.

My last experience to tell is that of running in the rain and snow. There is nothing better to make a man feel small than by running through a rain storm that would appear to rival that of Noah’s era, or by fighting through the sharp pricks of snow flying in ones face at hurricane like speeds. At those times, I definitely felt vulnerable to nature, as it threatened to sweep me away in its current, striking its fury down on me with lightning speed, or leave me in my tracks under drifts of snow. However, it was during these time that I felt alive, because I was able to be apart of it, rather than away from it by sitting in the comfy shelter of my home.
I, like the rain, snow, and wind that carries it, am free to go and just be who I am. I am allowed to take my place in all that takes place. It is while running that I am allowed to talk to myself, to God, to the animals, to the sun, and to the content cows that don’t talk back, but just lay and chew their cud. I am allowed to be free, and experience life the way it was meant to be experienced. Like the paraduck at the beginning who longed to be free, I too long to be free. To not only be a spectator, but to participate as well. I long to be what I was meant to be and that is a little part of the big picture.