When I was 14, my father made me pick a sport and join a team. I had no choice in the matter. He was — still is — an exercise fanatic, had been so before it was even fashionable. There was no way his daughter was ever going to just sit around.
So I picked the track team. It seemed like something I could do, just run around in circles by myself for a few hours a day, and besides, the football team practiced right there near the track. I was probably the only one on my team who worked out in makeup and earrings. Needless to say, I did not have the best team attitude.
I never imagined that running would become something that I would actually look forward to doing as an adult, or something I could enjoy with my own kid. But now, I find that I do, because of the Reservoir.
At the Reservoir, reduced to simply running and breathing, I relax like nowhere else. I discover things there: new ducklings, the occasional sunning turtle. I breathe in the smell of the water, reminding me of lake vacations in my childhood. I look at the people who pass, and see whom I can recognize. And I try to avoid geese.
The size of small toddlers, the geese hiss at everything that moves, even the slow ones like me. They sit in the middle of the path like entitled teenagers, daring you to pass by their turf. The geese give the Reservoir experience just the right amount of discord; they are the reminders that nothing in this life is perfect, and that we all have to get along with each other.
When I took my teenage son with me to run, I wondered what he would make of it all, the ducks, the geese, the people. Or they of him. Nat is gloriously autistic, and loves to proclaim his joy to the world by waving his arms and talking loudly (and seemingly nonsensically) to himself. We got to the Reservoir and before I could finish stretching, he had taken off in a gigantic loping stride, right through the middle of the geese. They parted for him, a good sign.
I watched with a little trepidation as he neared the shed. Two people were passing there at the same time. The running path by the shed is barely wide enough for two people who are being careful and considerate. But Nat…! I tried to catch up, gulping air and pumping my legs hard against the gravel. But I am not used to that pace. I could not get to him in time.
He passed through swiftly and smoothly. The couple turned to look at him, and I watched their expressions. But I could also tell they didn’t care. They were out to enjoy their walk at the Reservoir, just like me.
Nat kept going, but ran out of steam by the second mile. Now I was ahead of him. I dodged the geese and lengthened my stride. I felt my body settle into the exertion, and my breathing started to even out. The sun on my shoulders, I turned around every so often to check on Nat. But he was happy enough to stay about 10 paces behind me, silly-talking and arm-waving. I thought of Dad, and how he would have been so proud: a whole new generation of runners in his family.
After we passed the shed, we were coming into what I think of as the hot stretch. This is the part adjacent to Route 9, where the trees have been severely cut back and the sun beats down. This is where I often will spot a turtle.
I slowed down to a walk, because Nat seemed to be even further behind. I let him catch up to me. “OK, darling?” I asked.
“OK,” he answered. His hand bumped mine. I didn’t respond, assuming it was an accident from his ever-moving arms. The he did it again.
He wanted to hold my hand. That was a first. Had we bonded over the running and the friendly beauty of the Reservoir, geese and all? I don’t know. But I grasped his fingers and held firm.
Copyright 2007, Susan Senator