On Nature and Its Supposed Presence in Cities

And I thought I was experiencing "the outdoors," "nature," or "fresh air" in New York City. I have just come from a run on the Rivanna Trail in Virginia and I am here to say: "East River Park, you are not good enough for me." I am here to say "Hudson River Park that people call gorgeous, you have nothing on real, actual, bona fide nature."

It was quiet, shady/sunny, winding, by a river. Mountains in the distance. Cardinals, moles, two feral cats (I assumed they were feral...what were two calico kitties doing lying in the sun in the woods?), quiet, no exhaust, no tall buildings, no one around but moseying Sunday strollers and their big moseying dogs. It was enough to make a girl use the word "moseying." Twice.

In both Austin and Charlottesville, everywhere people running, everywhere paths along bodies of water. In Austin, paths around bodies of water in the middle of a city. I look at these runners legs, their faces deep in running thought, and think "I am one of you" and remember the majority of my life when I didn't run, and how I didn't understand it. Now I look at them, and think how lucky we are to be a part of the not-at-all-secret society of people who know there is peace to be found in moving briskly through space carried by one's own legs and breath.

This was mostly triggered by the fact that I hadn't done any exercise for over a week and had been dreaming nightly, guilitily, about running, having dreams in which I suddenly realize that if I run, I will get places faster. I break into a jog and it feels like I'm flying. This is in my dreams.

The Rivanna Trail starts by some strange warehouses at the end of Market Street in Charlottesville called Woolen Mills. In college, I rode my bike to Woolen Mills and remember riding home in the cold, lagging far behind my boyfriend, a boyfriend I don't think or talk about very much anymore, but who is inextricable from my experience of Charlottesville, one that started 15 years ago. This is odd, but expected. I keep passing Lee Park where I once fell asleep in the sun and got sunburn on my legs so bad that I still have a faint scar where my socks hit my ankles.

I want to talk about being back in C'ville, about the tremendous experience of the Book Festival here, about Austin and how everyone loves it and it's hard not to love it too, even if you are struck by a crushing loneliness there. Which I think I was. A rainy, humid loneliness that vanished as soon as I got to Virginia, where there is a book fair, where there are my dear friends Catherine and Peter Orner -- someone with whom I never thought I'd drive in a car in the dark of night on country roads in my college town. Strange collisions.