It was a long time coming. I failed once but it wasn’t going to happen again. The fated day finally arrived. Thankfully, it was a sunny 20 Celsius spring day. Perfect for a 5k marathon along the river.
Running is a recent addition to my life. At least that is what I thought while reflecting on my first 5k. But then I began to dive deep into my past. Deep, deeper than I ever thought before…
Thirty years melted away. A small red berry grabbed my attention while exploring the Lake Superior shoreline. I was six or seven, somewhere around there, and my curiosity in the world instilled absolute awe and wonder at everything. Those berries made me sick. I threw up soon after with no other ill effects. Still I wandered through the thick underbrush discovering the mysteries of the world.
Part of it was curiosity, but there was a good deal of imitation involved as well. From before I was born a family came up during summers to vacation in the pristine wilderness that was my hometown. The patriarch of the family was a tall, slender man. By trade he was a teacher. He seemed to enjoy exploring the forest and possessed a natural curiosity. He would disappear for hours at a time. Turns out that he would go for runs in the morning.
That wasn’t all there was to this man. He could also make mean S’mores. During one particularly pleasant July evening the training began.
Like any July day situated in or around Lake Superior, it was hot. I was a little kid creating a highway system for Tonka trucks to carry out their tasks. The End-Loader was the workhorse of the bunch, helping create the hills and valleys needed to make the roads interesting. My brother dug a huge hole in the black stamp-sand. He was a big guy and he disappeared into it. My sisters swam in Lake Superior and explored the nearby ruins of the old Champion Copper Mill.
As the setting sun fell on that perfect day we had a barbecue of steak, hot dogs, kebabs, you know, all the good stuff. For dessert, S’mores. The master was hard at work toasting the perfect marshmallow. I was enraptured by his technique. He chose the perfect stick and stripped one end to a sharp point. Then he singed the raw tip in the glowing embers of the fire.
Then came cooking.
Two marshmallows on the end, patience, and a discerning eye were required next. Marshmallows can ignite in a fraction of a second. Any moment, any lapse in concentration can spell disaster.
I absorbed every twist and wave, every breath and slight adjustment, nothing existed except his technique, those slowly browning marshmallows, and the dancing flames. I watched with attention that only a young person could.
Once the marshmallows begin to droop and an even toasting colors their fine exterior comes the next crucial stage. Stacking the cookie. Any master requires an apprentice to complete the project. Two graham cracker squares and one chunk of chocolate bar. You have to be quick. Place the chocolate on the bottom square and use the other square to capture the marshmallowy perfection with a smooth twist. Squish them together for the perfect S’more.
I realize everybody has their own preference for the perfect S’more but this is mine and I’m sticking to it.
Back from my reverie I realize that this man means a lot to me. I would only see him once a year while I was young but it is crystal clear. I still remember his laugh. I still remember his nasally/gravelly voice. I still remember the way he jogged along dusty tracks through the woods. But most of all I still remember his knowledge. He taught me so much when I was so young.
I guess you could say he is a mentor.
Many of the decisions I’ve made in my life have been because of him. Because of the experiences we shared all those years ago on that black stamp-sand beach on Lake Superior.
Running may seem to be a recent addition to my life, but I think it was always there, hiding behind childhood fog full of trucks and sticks and video games. There have been many obstacles but it always comes back.
So now I run and I will run.
Thinking of marshmallows the whole way…
Why do you do what you do?