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river running inside of me

I used to have dreams about running. When I was still a child and before it became a thing that I did. Lucid dreams. Not that I knew that was the name for them, back then. They  came from the same place as the flying ones (something that hasn’t transpired in my real life – yet. Sadly.)

When I first started running, it was always down by the river. In Stamford Bridge. So I must have been twelve or thirteen, because when I was fifteen, we moved up to Bugthorpe. Then I had to make do with wearing a thin path across the field, making my way over the beck, through the village past the telephone box, back up the road and down the long drive. It did the job. But the river was better.

I would take Willow (our Weimaraner) and she would bound up and down, to and away from me. Sometimes my sister, Jane would come with me. Or Ruth, or Sarah. We would throw a stick into the river for her to dive in after. She just loved swimming.. and being with us (“She’s one of the girls” Mum would say). She would look so utterly happy, scrabbling up the bank and back to us. She would drop the stick and shake herself from nose to tail, her short silver hair shedding tiny silver goblets of water in a wide arc. Sometimes she would bound away from the river and dive into the field of corn. All you would see then was the top of her head and her ears when she popped up, whirling round like two windmill pinwheels.

Then, there were the times it was just me and her. The sunshine beating down on the corn field and a special smell. I hadn’t realised what it was, until I smelt it here – in Bishops Stortford – a few months ago. The wind sweeping across the river and through a field of ripe corn baking in the mid-sky sun.  When I smelt it here, I couldn’t see any corn.. but I was running by the river, the scent reached my nostrils and I immediately knew there must be a ripe corn crop nearby. Half a mile further along on my run and there it was, resplendent in the sun. Such a happy smell. And instantly, I was back there, with Willow, by the River Derwent in Stamford Bridge.

It occurred to me, as I was running (of course) today, that some of my very best alone-memories have only happened because I run.

Take this bank holiday Monday. I went out towards the end of the day. I’m so much more comfortable in the cold than the heat… I am a northerner after all. As dusk started to fall and I headed back from Westmill towards Aspenden, a badger scuttled across the road in front of me. It was literally two metres in front of me. A real life badger. Right in front of me. “Hello Badger” I said. Amazing.

There was the owl that time; the best birthday gift. Today, three tortoiseshell butterflies, a white horse lazily rubbing its nose on its lower leg, a huge family of six (almost fledgling) ducklings nosying along the bank, skittering blue dragonflies mid-mate, snowflake-like tree blossom drifting in the wind, bright yellow buttercups freckling the green grass, a boater’s pug letting out an almost bark; reminding me how dry my throat was last night, as I attempted to blast out the saxophone riff to  ‘Gimme Shelter’.

When I’m running by the river my mind seems to reach another plane where previously unconnected things join together. It’s almost meditative. Like I can suddenly trace the lines between things, that I just hadn’t noticed in waking life. The lines are delicate gossamer spider threads: concentrate too hard and they get blown away.

There’s the thread between my thoughts, and writing this blog. That happens when I run. And when I travel. Maybe it’s about the space. That special vacuum that is created when you change your environment and your mind shifts from regular hum-drum-everyday. A curtain lifts and you have fresh eyes for everything, outward and inward. The inspiration to write almost always comes to me when I run. I get back, have a quick stretch and take myself off somewhere quiet and get it all down. So yeah, I’m sat here now, on the island, next to Minnow (Ryan’s boat), sweaty and red faced, typing into my phone.

(‘Present moment’: As Ryan said this morning, it’s like being in an aviary here. He’s so right. The bird song comes from every angle and echoes around your head. It’s glorious. Especially as he’s just brought me a hand-made pina colada and some nocerella olives… happy days!)

I traced a new thread this afternoon at a gentle ten and a half minute mile pace: here I am, running by the river; it’s my favourite place to run; it always has been; ever since those corn field smelling days with Willow; some of my favourite alone-memories have been created whilst running by rivers, like this one; I was running next to this one when the knowing came to me that Ryan-and-I would keep on being; I will live here soon; I always wanted to live by the river; soon I will live on the river (even better); maybe it was always going to be his way; before I even ran by rivers and knew all these things consciously, something inside me knew; maybe that’s why I used to dream of running, even before I loved running in actual life; and maybe that’s why my favourite place and memories are tied to the river. Rivers and running. Two things that thread through my past, my present and my future. 

River runs are inside of me, even as they happen outside of me. In an inexplicable symmetry – and if it’s not too much of a gossamer stretch – maybe rivers run inside of me too?

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