Thoughts Upon A Run
As I went running along the American River in Folsom, California the licorice smell of anise mixed with the fragrance of ripe blackberries made me remember the river of my youth. I had contacted my friend, Doug, in passing through Sacramento and when he asked if I needed a place to stay, I looked at my watch—6:00 pm on Saturday—and decided to take him up on his offer. Otherwise I would have to crash on another friend whom I wasn’t yet able to contact, or find a random piece of land somewhere to throw my sleeping bag. Doug planned to go to his workout at a nearby gym and he had a few chores to accomplish, but if I didn’t mind, his place was mine.
The home is subtle and spectacular: a large, old rambling house with four bedrooms, beside a perfect garden. The garden includes pear and apple trees, conically cut junipers, a carefully trimmed 100 foot long laurel shrub, a maze of short bushes with azaleas and rhododendrons beside the front door. A nicely shaped swimming pool lay in the side yard. On the north side, the house overlooks the swift American River, and in evening, with a full moon, light provides a dimensioned view of sprawling valley oaks contrasting with the eerie shapes of over-tall cottonwoods and weepy willows. Inside the house is spare, the floors wood, the kitchen roomy.
I dressed for a run in 90 degree heat and headed out, dropping down to the American River along a subdivision road. The American River Parkway follows the river and runs through gravel pits left by an excavation company that had been purchased to protect the river’s values. In the first mile I saw figs growing under hand-shaped leaves, quail scurrying through the brush, a walnut tree growing beside the trail, vultures soaring through the trees, more blackberries, and a river otter diving and swooshing its slim body through eddy lines in the river. This area isn’t really wild but it is protected to assure that the riparian area and wildlife continue to live there in health. As they do.
A valley oak spreads across a parking lot, forming a one-hundred foot circle of shade in this otherwise overheated area, creating a one-tree-oasis in the graveled expanse, begging for a picnic. Its branches droop to the height of a person standing; just right. Beyond the tree, I ran on a dirt trail that snakes through the riverside vegetation in the coolness of the growing evening. In a couple of miles I come to Lake Natoma.
Lake Natoma is a regulating reservoir for Folsom Reservoir and when the volume of Folsom is quickly released to provide power, Natoma gives the river a steadier flow. Below Natoma the salmon run halts and a nearby hatchery provides spawning facilities. Cormorants sit and watch, 18 of them stand motionless across a line from bank to bank above the river. Number 19 flies low on the river with its wings barely missing the surface until it approaches its compatriots; then it sweeps up twenty feet without a wingbeat, soars up to the line of its comrades, stalls, and ever so gently glides, lites, and with a folding of wings, sets beside them, disturbing none.
Fishermen fish silently. One has a large fish, maybe 12 pounds, on his stringer and it floats upside down, twirling in the current; he is the only lucky one in all the creatures trying to catch a fish who has succeeded.
“Is that a steelhead?” I ask.
“No, it’s a salmon.”
I’ve passed a number of fishermen on my route and asked: “Catch any?”
The inevitable answer has been: “Nope.”
One man asked, “Where are the fish?”
“Who knows?” I said. “In the river I guess.” What more can a fisherman say?
As I run along the American River it occurs to me that I love it here among star thistles and dollar-sized sunflowers, the blinking lights of Folsom, the poorly defined ridge between here and the Sierra, all of the vultures, hawks, and cormorants, heat among dead white trees and smells of the river. It’s a perfect place to run here along this river, in synch with nature and time. It was a perfect place to grow up here years ago.
But what I realize is that my mother is the one whom I ought to thank. Why? Because she brought me here after my father died in 1969. She thought that a boy ought to have room to play outside of a city; he ought to be able to breathe the fresh air and live like a Tom Sawyer. Los Angeles was no place to grow up and Galt, south of here, is where she grew up through the Great Depression. When I had a stroke, she came to Boise, a place she disdains, to help me. I have recovered and it seems that now is my time to return a favor to her while it is still possible, while she yet retains her memory of the majestic oaks and may grow older in this place that she loved.