We’ve had a lot of rain the past couple weeks, winter yielding its frozen grip to spring. I read recently that Pluto has also made some major transit or something and it reminded me of my grandmother talking about Pluto Water when I was a young boy.  “Pluto water,” she explained, “was a bottle of special water we used to drink in the 1930’s when you needed a good physic.”  When I asked what a “Good Physic” was, she explained that drinking a bottle of “Pluto Water” would flush your system; a good cleansing.  So, every year at about this time when the creeks are high and running fast I think of my grandmother and Pluto Water; God’s cleansing, the purging of the system.

“Sure wish that wind would die down,” a friend said the other day. 

My reply was immediate, “Rained a lot yesterday, nature’s just drying itself out.”  I’ve lived in the east now for thirty years and it amazes me how my default responses are based on what I learned as a boy growing up on the flatland prairie.  “It’s the second week of March isn’t it?”  I replied, chuckled to myself and allowed my thoughts to race back to Illinois, erasing forty years.

There was one athletic event I participated in all four years during high school; track.  I loved running track.  I was a high hurdler.  Now, I was far from being the best hurdler there ever was, but that was the one thing I did that I truly loved; running hurdles.
My uncle, Jim Region was ten years older than me and he possessed a passion for hurdles, one he passed on to me.  He taught me, guided me through the art of hurdles. Funny thing was, I was never able to beat him, he was awful good, naturally faster than me. What I’ve come to learned over the years is result pales in the presence of true passion.

The second week of March was when we began track practice, the time to get in shape, to prepare for our first meet the first week of April.  Often there was still snow on the ground that second March week in Illinois.  The first couple days the coach would make us run distance.  I’ve never much liked distance running, but I complied.  The coach would give us coordinates from the school located on the south side of town for a mile route.  “Run down Wells to Lyons Road. Run Lyons on out to County Line Road, turn around and come back, go north on Dayton to Hall and back to the school. Do that five times, then report back to the gym,” he told us, and off we went. 

Whenever I think of these March distance runs, one memory surfaces.  It’s fascinating how the same sensory and visual images come back.  It’s a pretty selective thing; memory.  There was really nothing special about that day as I recall it, but those are the images that appear when I think of early spring track practice. 

It was overcast that day.  Most of the snow was gone and the farmers along Lyons Road had already been in the fields turning the soil.  The crowned charcoal grey blacktop road was wet.  Light fog hung low over the fields with patches of turned black earthen mounds peeking through.  Rich turned earth always smells to me of new life.  It was sprinkling lightly, a fine mist.

Our track sweats were made of cotton but they were a heavy cotton unlike any I’ve seen since.  Our school colors were orange and black.  The track sweat pants and heavy, loose fitting hooded sweatshirt were black with a small school logo on the pants hip and shirt.  There was an ample, lined pouch in the front of the sweat shirt to keep your hands warm.  When I ran distance I would keep my hands tucked in the pouch, hood up and head down as I ran.  That way I only saw the road immediately in front of me and didn’t think about how far we still had to run.

Near the end of our second lap that fine mist turned into real rain and the coach flagged us in as we passed.  Perhaps that’s why I remember that day, only two miles instead of five.

Once inside the school we would assemble in the basement level hall for calisthenics. After about fifteen minutes of that we’d run.  The school was a rectangular three story brick structure built in the 1920’s. There was a staircase at each end of the building that ran from the basement level to the top floor.  So, we’d run up the south stairs to the third floor, sprint the length of the third floor hall then down the north staircase back to the basement level, race the length of the basement hall and back up the south staircase again.  We’d do that ten times and then more calisthenics, then ten more laps.  About the time we were all getting pretty tired of this routine Coach Hughes told us to go into the gym.

In the gym there were mats laid out in one area so the broad jumpers could get there steps down and in another area behind the high jump bar.  The pole vaulters were at one end stretching and doing hundreds of sit-ups.  I took all this in but my eye locked on the center of the gym floor.  Three hurdles had been set up with a ten yard space between them.  My heart quickened.  The thought of the hard gym floor and how much hurt that would put on your knees if you fell, appeared briefly, but was over ridden by the notion of actually getting the chance to run hurdles.  I say run hurdles not jump hurdles because you don’t jump hurdles you run them, in essence you step over them.  The less time you remain in the air the better, because the more time your feet are out of contact with the ground the slower your time. The thing about hurdles is that there is a moment as you clear the hurdle that you are airborne. It is those brief moments I treasure, you see they were my opportunity to fly. I never wanted my foot to come down.  Some resistant part of me chose to sacrifice speed in favor of those moments of pure magical flight.


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