A Tremendous Wave, An Incredible Gift

“My” song is 5:40 long. It has seven verses, each one either 32, 33, or 34 seconds long. They are separated by nine second intrumentals where the melody is repeated. There is some harmonica at the end. Other than that, nothing much happens. Without the words, there is almost nothing to see here, unless you happen to enjoy the melody, like me.

But oh, those words…

The piece was written at a very difficult time of the musician’s life, when his wife had left him and his family was falling apart. Whenever I hear it, I always put myself in the artist’s situation, and wonder if I could have even picked up my pen, much less written the words that send such Earth-trembling shock waves through even the most frigid and frozen souls.

I am listening to it now, and get the familiar goose bumps that have appeared with each playing since I first heard this version of it, so many years ago. Nothing has changed, no element of the song’s power has been diminished.

How? How did he pull it off? How did he drag himself out his seventh, deepest circle of hell long enough to gasp for a puff of fresh air, scribble down a line or two, and descend back into the pit. It was the pit, after all, that made those words and letters bond and take form. And the only way out of it, was to sink deeper into it.

Musically, the artist has chosen a kind of a folk-rock sound that’s easy on the ear and, more importantly, very repetitive. There are no real solos-unless you count the harmonica one at the end, and the music and melody seem to roll into your ears rhythmically, like waves, bearing the ocean’s irresistable might and an armada of words that paralyze your brain. Each verse starts with a couple of acoustic guitars, an acoustic bass, and with the drummer only working the high hat with the bass drum. As the verse moves into the”punchline”, its deepest core, however, the drummer kicks in with the snare drum and the wave reaches a new, terrifying intensity.

When “If I Were A Boy” from Beyoncé came out, it reminded me a lot of my song. Because the musicians are merely playing a very pretty but simple melody the whole time, more attention can be paid to the words, which can be very hazardous.

The song has seven verses. Each verse has six lines, plus the title of the song at its close. Here is where the song becomes special: the seven verses have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Each one is a story that could easily be a novel that could easily be a two-hour movie. But each story ends with the title that shows, undeniably, that ALL of our stories are the same.

”..there’s also no sense of time. There’s no respect for it. You’ve got yesterday, today, and tomorrow all in the same room, and there’s very little you can’t imagine not happening”. -the artist said later about the lyrics.

Then there’s the language. Many artists use big words to show they’re intelligent, or “f-ck” or “sh-t” to show they’re rebellious, or they’ll use sappy words because the American audience thrives on chocolate cake lies. There is none of any of that in this song, just a whole lot of words we use all day every day, combined in a way to rip out the Titanic hull in your security, your illusion of happiness, your dreams of squeaky clean simplicity.
“when finally the bottom fell out I became withdrawn”

“all the people I used to know are an illusion to me now”

“her folks said our lives together sure was going to be rough”

“rain falling on my shoes”

“we’ll meet again someday on the avenue”

“but all the while I was alone the past was close behind

I’ve seen a lot of women, but she never escaped my mind”

“everyone of them words rang true and glowed like burning coals

pouring off of every page like it was written in my soul (from me to you)”

These last two lines describe the singer as he reads his own Dante’s Inferno.

You’ll never know you’re hurting until you’ve heard these words. You’ll never know how bad it is until you’ve chewed on them, savoring their bitter taste, feeling the clunky knots descend to your gut, and feel your intestines wrestle with the truths they hold. And you’ll never, ever, be free from any of your pain unless you deal with it.

I don’t care if this song was written about 47 or so years ago. Why should that matter? The truths it contains are universal, like the characters in the song. They are each and every one of us, forging our ways through these tundras of hurt we call out lives. The truths they represent are there for us to ingest as keys; keys to unlock the true joy our lives might one day become, if we so choose, despite the obstacles.

I know a lot of people aren’t going to get it, and aren’t going to make it to this line, but I wanted to add that a lot of people aren’t going to appreciate the “rain falling on my shoes” line from above. The character in the song is standing by the side of the road when this happens, some time after “our lives together sure was going to be rough”. How does he know the rain is falling on his shoes?

He’s looking at them. What could be a more pitiful image than that? Standing on the side of the road in the middle or night watching the rain fall on your shoes?

Another underappreciated skill the artist expertly wields here in this, my most favorite Bob Dylan song, is that he tells us nothing-we’ve got to see this ourselves, create with him, and thereby work through his/our pain with him.

Which is why calling Tangled Up In Blue “my” song is a truly ridiculous notion. It’s our song now. Shout out to you Bob, you really broke the mold with this one, and gave us a priceless gift that will never overstay the need for it. He did not do this for his career, or to earn wads o’ money. He did this to accept the pain, to deal with it and try to move on, as best he could, and to show us how we could do the same.
Give the man some respect.

I know death, he weighs “239”

Death is sick-diarrhoea streams from His mouth

over an oval orange face and through tiny piggie fingers

he careens and croons through this China Shop world

thinking He be the one Most Deserved

and everything else orbits His greatness

and those that don’t respect Him are thrown from the club

and those that utter doubts about His lies are trampled underfoot

                                                    by legions upon legions of characters

for he hates   

and he lies    

and he destroys    

for death is all Death knows

and Death begets Mayhem

and Mayhem begets Pain

and Pain is the pillow underneath his sleeping skull

it rings across the vast chasms in His bulging chest

above the still-more-bulging girth below

                    that swallows and begs yet shall never be full

because His hunger will never be filled with food

I know Death and I know it well

I see its works

from His golf courses to His affairs

to the foolish wig upon His head

to the pumpkin face-paint He wears

from the endless depths of His lack of knowledge

to His robbery of the poor to pay the rich

to His seething lack of humanity

to the way He treats umbrellas

Death cloaks itself with night

    because it has no use for all things light

Death is creaky and boned

    His goodness has been filed and honed

Death is tall and wields the blade

    His father’s insults to evade

I know Death and I know it well:

    Death is the mouth of the Nightmares we tell

Yes I know Death, I know it well:

    For Death is the Price of the dreams we sell

I can only pray for one thing more:

that Death’s ugly reign ends at four

The Antidote Never To Be

The burning sun boiled the skins of the pilgrims on the way to their Mecca on Wall Street.  They spent their days in fervent veneration, desperately clinging to His tattered garments, bathing in His Holy Energy, quaking beneath his Almighty Power and generous Grace.  They flagellated themselves in the gym, trying to become disciples of his Word, like unto Him: no pain no gain.  And He was so generous to all of his lambs; they bathed in the Manna He showered upon them, displaying it proudly wherever they went as proof that they were favored by the One Most High.

At some point these Pilgrims returned to their squalid domiciles, in places like Yonkers; or Elizabeth, New Jersey; or New Rochelle, CT-and felt the luster lingering upon them peel away and crack, catch fire and rise as smoky tendrils like tobacco leaves.  Their sheen was the plywood hull of a speeding fighter jet, and their lives were running out of gas.  

The gel was dripping from their slicked back hair, and they were too spent to prevent it from becoming, like their lives…askew.

No matter how nice their furniture was, or how exciting their games of “Fortnite” became, or how often they polished the hub caps of their Mercedes A-Klasse, or which perfumes they doused themselves with, or how cool their watches were, or how stuffed their wallets and bank accounts seemed to be, or how many partners they had vanquished, or how many Craft beers they drank, or how many marathons they won, or how much they could bench press, or however many vacations they took to whichever exotic destination or how much real, honest-to-goodness ketchup-kolored blood they had spilled on their way to their particular perverted dream of American success, they all reached a point where they realized it was nothing but a sham.

When the bottom crumbled, allowing all of their magnificent accomplishments, diplomas, awards, and commendations to swirl down through the toilets their lives had become, they felt their skin turn to paper and their bones to become frail, like fall leaves waiting to be trampled by a four-year old in the park.  The life drained from their eyes and they began to look through people, unable to find any answers from where their vision began to any point in the universe.  

They were sick, with no hope of recovery, and there was nothing inside that was warm or could be kept warm.

There was no reason they were alive.  There was no reason to take another breath.  They were of absolutely no worth, and there was nothing worth saying or doing anymore, because none of what they had ever done had any meaning whatsoever.

Because they were worth nothing they sought only, in their relationships with others, to prove these acquaintances to have even lesser no worth than they.

All of the glory and shine their lives had become were merely there to hide the yawning, ugly truths inside their chests.

The next morning they greased back their hair, perfumed and uniformed themselves anew in Ralph Polo (or the like), removed a speck from the windshield of their cars, and made their way into another day of pronation and self-castigation in their chosen Mecca, barely feeling the burning sun above as it boiled the frigid papery skin under their garments.  The sun they had until now considered a source of light free from the nuisance of flipping a switch, or of heat that required no expensive maintenance.

The burning sun which had created them all; that had no shields, no churches, no lies, and no human ideals out front to prop it up.

The burning, life-giving sun that knows no answers and no questions, respects nothing we attempt, but gives only in return.

Throughout their lives the burning sun would remain meaningless for them outside of the narrow context of heat and light source, but was in reality the only perfectly meaningful thing they would ever experience.

This simple ball of light and heat in the sky that was so graciously appreciated, the more so the lower one went through the food chain, by all of the animals not equal in stature to magnificent mankind; that could easily be the only healing power anyone would ever need, was just something that bounced up and down the sky each day, either to provide tans or to give them a reason for wearing cool sunglasses, or to annoy with its glare.


My favorite quote of all time is “Huh?”, which is what William H. Macy answers when asked “What kind of finder’s fee are you looking for (you tube: Fargo (1996) – A Finder’s Fee Scene (4/12) | Movieclips)?”  I’ll admit the quote is not as powerful if you don’t see his face, but coupled together the reaction is sublime.  

    Jerry Lundergard is all of us.  We’re trapped in our own little dramas and futile attempts at making mountains from molehills, and all it takes is a simple question to make us look like utter buffoons.  Our lives, that we deem as incredibly important, mean so little in the grand scheme of things.  Ask the bird on the tree branch, singing every morning, if he’s worried about COVID 19.  

    The Coen brothers have done this before.  In Raising Arizona, a prisoner in group therapy is asked by the prison psychologist/ex-hippie why he uses the word ‘trapped’, to which his deeply wise reply was: “Huh?”  I thought, back in 1987 (!) that the bar could not be raised any higher, but the Fargo scene just took this to a whole ’nuther level-it’s why the Coen brothers are so great.

    The next time your’re worried about a midterm, or a job interview, or the quarterly reports, or if Agent Orange will be reelected, remember this quote-it’ll put things in the proper perspective.

Empty Streets

A Tesla drives by.  Its driver is asleep.  I hear no music from inside, and wonder if he’s really alive.

No one’s around.  It’s now getting harder and harder to believe there was a time, before the lockdown, that people went outside at all.  That people got together. It’s eerily quiet.  I feel criminal, and try to silence my steps.

At least the air outside is still fresh.

A bird sings.  Show off.  

I’m jealous, but I stop.  The song it sings reminds me of how much I used to like music.  When the words meant something.  When playing an instrument you can hold in your hand meant something. 

Sentimental sap.

It’s hard in times like these not to think of the past-those moments you might not have appreciated at the time but seemed to have since taken on a deeper, more intense life of its own.  They put on garments dignified and silky, otherworldly, and dance ballets through your mind.  They may be the flowing hair of a young girl, laughing in the sunshine.  They may be the rawness of the skin of your father’s powerful hand, hanging from on high, holding yours.  Or they may be the melody of a song you once knew, a song that always seemed to be in your ears, a song that lulled to you sleep or got you going in the morning.  

Then I realize that those melodies, and those memories alike, cannot change in time, cannot be improved or oversentimentalized, they were perfect and true the first time you saw them-the only thing that could minimize their worth is having them drowned out by sheer volume, by images and sounds harmless and meaningless.  

The entire Earth is drowned out.  It’s so quiet it seems like I’m underwater.  The airwaves are drowned.  The pictures on TV and on computer screens are drowned.  Even the few people I see on the street or online are wearing masks.

All the people I have known are gone.  All of my family are either dead or elsewhere.  There is no work to be found, no money to be had.

 It’s been seven years since the lockdown began-I wonder if it will ever be lifted?

 I feel lost, I feel as if I have lost.  And if that is so, then someone has won.


The Click

The saw-toothed January wind carved a swath through the alley, searching blindly with tendril-fingers, reminding all it touched of their mortality. Wendell awoke inside his box with a cough and listened to the noises of the world, hardly hearing the clattering of his teeth. His body was tight and sore from sleeping scrunched in the cold. He couldn’t feel his toes.

Rain began to patter and dance atop his box, and, with the temperature dropping, it would only be a matter of time before he would have to go to the shelter at night.

Wendell didn’t want to go the shelter. Outside the smells didn’t bother him, but at the shelter, there was no place for them to go but up his nose. Ever since his cocaine period his nose had been very sensitive.

He rolled onto his back. The rags in his box shifted and the box creaked-its days were numbered. He stretched his head out of his box, opened his mouth, and drank the icy freezing rain. At least he wouldn’t have to worry about hydration.

He heard rummaging across the alley. Either Earnest or Melinda must be up, he thought. He turned to look, seeing Earnest lunge out from under his pile of rags and Charlie Brown-Halloween-ghost blankets.

Melinda looked like shit yesterday, he remembered.

Then he saw Earnest lunging again. Only then did he realize he was lunging at something. It was a toad.

At first he wanted to laugh, but something killed the urge as it made its way up from his gut.

Earnest needed three or four lunges-he wasn’t the most athletic guy-before he snagged the amphibian. Sitting up, he looked at it once, raised it to his mouth and bit its head off. Wendell couldn’t watch Earnest pulling at toad sinews for long, and his eyes returned to the pile from which his alley-mate had come. A leg and part of another stuck out, disembodied and wooden. At first he didn’t think much of Melinda’s immobile legs.

Then Earnest began choking on a toad bone. He coughed and heaved, turning and writhing over a handful of bursting trash bags.

The legs still did not move.

Wendell dragged his shivering, bony frame out of his sagging carton and over towards Melinda’s legs. He pulled at rags and soiled blankets until he uncovered Earnest’s girlfriend. She had never been much to look at, but she had definitely been more attractive without a bluish, vomit-encrusted face.

Wendell sat back down a few steps away, his back to a building wall, feeling the rain slice at his face and listening to Earnest chomping at the toad.

His eyes roamed the place he had come to call, at least temporarily, home. He looked at the rags and bulging, bursting trash bags, the strips and strands and scraps, the books, newspapers and magazines, the broken glass shining inside the puddles of freezing rain, the carburetor, the stripped bicycle, the posters of events long past, the shopping cart with the broken wheel, the bits of rotting food and oilstains, discarded, formless clothing, a golf bag with a broken umbrella inside, a shoe, a bathtub, another different shoe, some bowling pins, the walls of the buildings with paint flaking away or with crumbling corners: all of the furniture inside his home.

“Hey, man, listen,” he said to Earnest without looking. “You ever get tired of it all? I mean, look around. You woke up in the middle of…this, next to a dead girlfriend, and now you’re eating a toad.”

Earnest coughed and gagged, scraping at his tongue and flinging himself disgustedly over the trash bags.

“Blaaachhhh!” he shouted, still scraping. It sounded like he was holding his tongue. “Toadth gif u warth! I thoud ih wath a frogh!”

Wendell hung his head, still shivering. He looked at his own legs and saw a puddle growing around them, and not because he wet himself. For the first time in a long time, he found himself dissatisfied with his station. He turned his head up again for more water and found it had turned to snow.

“Climate change my ass,” he mumbled.

He got up and began to move, not really knowing where. At first he just wanted to get warm. Then, the more he moved, the more he wanted to move.

He shut off his head and let his body take over. It started doing a little boxer’s shuffle, as it had so many years ago when he thought he was going to be somebody.

The shuffle got his blood flowing, and he felt good. He started to jab and uppercut, threw a right cross.

“Go get ’im, Mayweather!” someone shouted from above. Wendell heard laughter.

He stopped boxing, but not out of shame. He had forgotten how good it had felt to box, or even just to move. Was it so wrong to want to be able to do these things? he asked himself. To be able to box or just train when I wanted? It wasn’t illegal-why haven’t I done it?

Answers came fast and hot, that all tried to put him in his place. No money, no food, no home, no gym, blah, blah, blah. They were all just words. If I want to box, he said out loud, I’m gonna box.

He started to jog slowly, jabbing the air regularly as he had so long ago.

“C’mon!” he would say, every now and then. “I got this. Bring it now!”

There was more laughter, but Wendell heard nothing. Fighters hardly ever do.

If Earnest had lived to see the day, he wouldn’t have had to travel far to find his old friend. A few blocks away a sweaty, dilapidated gym stood in a side street not that different from the alley where he and Wendell had spent time together. If by chance Earnest had wandered in there, at almost any time of the day or night, he would have found his old friend working there as a janitor.

It isn’t much, Wendell might have said, but I can train when I want, and I have a place to crash in back there. And I can even get a warm shower whenever I want.

He would have found a happy ex-homeless man, and maybe he would have been a little jealous. But he had never gotten the chance.

I Know Milk, But…

I know these sharp corners

and those serrated edges

and the logic of black ink on white page

and the spin of whitewalled rubber down potholed streets

and the piercing of the skies by our scrapers

and the scatching of the heavens by plane,

like fingernails on the inside of a coffin

and classrooms and boardrooms and meetings

and information and facts

and beltbuckles

or the foreboding ordered tanglements of a noose

and the Indy 500 and the Indy 500 and the Indy 500

and taxes and accounts and fractions and numbers themselves.

I know definitions and meanings and synonyms and opposites

and the price of a gallon of milk

the price of a gallon of milk.

I know the price of this gallon of milk,

but I will never know the shape of wind,

the path of the moth,

or this thing, alone in our world



A masterpiece aflutter-

but with the strength to travel 2500 miles (a fact).

I will never know the butterfly,

which is why my heart beats

To Save A Tribe

Hundreds of years ago, there was a village of natives next to a river, close to where it spilled into the Great Sea. The chief, Standing Bear, had a beautiful daughter named Leotie, but everyone called her Coyote.

Her beauty was known to play tricks with men’s minds, so that they were spellbound and dumb in her presence.

All of the warriors and most of the braves were in love with her, and fights occurred almost every time her name was mentioned.

Coyote came into that age where it was time to marry, and many in the village grew excited and restless. Standing Bear watched the tribe in its unruly state and was silent for three days.

After his silence, he announced to the village proudly that his daughter was of marrying age, and he had decided on a proper ritual to decide which member of the tribe should win her hand.

There will be a race, he said, at the first sign of Spring. It will start at the village and go up the river to the Lonely Pine forest, through the forest, across the plain where the flowers grew so tall and pretty, down into the Lost Canyon, where all of the braves had their rites of adulthood, up out of the canyon into the beautiful rolling lavender hills at the foot of the Porcupine Mountains, up and over the mountains and to the top of Eagle’s Peak, the tallest mountain in their world.

Once there, they would have to pick up the Chief’s Bear Claw necklace, which the Chief himself would hide, and return it unharmed. The warrior or brave that would return first with the necklace would take Coyote as his bride.

The entire village erupted with excitement. The tribal elders could not remember a time with so much anticipation, or when the tribe seemed to be as tightly knit. They all seemed blessed by the Great Spirit, and the elders went out of their way to thank Standing Bear for leading the tribe to beautiful shores.

The tribe itself was a large one. There were many strong warriors and lively braves-most of whom were very interested in winning Coyote’s hand. Many began to sneak out on secret training runs, eager to increase their strength and endurance. The energy they invested in their training, as well as in the speeches they made as the race approached, was infectious, until even those braves, warriors, and yes, even squaws, who were not interested in Coyote as wife, began to see the race as an opportunity to prove themselves to the tribe.

Life continued through the long winter, but everyone had one eye on the coming of Spring. Many in the tribe were already happily married, and they did their best to support and encourage those who would run, but there were even a handful of these men and women who decided to run anyway, with no desire to win. They either enjoyed running that much or wanted to be part of something special, and would not even make the effort to look for the Chief’s bear claw necklace at the top of Eagle’s Peak Mountain, should they arrive there first.

In addition to the married runners who harbored no thoughts of victory, many of the tribesmen would have no chance of winning because of physical limitations. Some of the braves, for example, had voices like birds, and their ascent to manhood was years coming. Even some of the warriors were ill-equipped to undertake an event of that nature, they were either too slow or too weak or even too poorly orientated, and would only start the race because of desire.

There was one final group of runners that had very good chances of being the first to return with the prized necklace. These were the fastest, strongest, smartest and purest of the tribe. None of this group, however, compared with Winged Salmon, whose name sounded much more imposing in the language of the tribe.

Winged Salmon possessed single-minded determination, endless persistence, the legs of a stallion, and a sharp and clever intuition. He was one of the tribal scouts, and when he went out scouting, he was gone for days or weeks. He never seemed to need food or sleep, and he would be very difficult to beat in the Great Race.

There were other great runners and scouts in the tribe, like Rolling Stallion, Seven Lightning Bolts, and Runs With Rams, as well as two squaws, Galloping Deer and Falcon Wings, who had already made names for themselves as runners in their own right. Both had already run to Eagle Peak Mountain and back…

There was one runner, though, who was ignored by all. Falling Rocks was a quiet young man, very healthy, but not known for being very strong or fast at all, or even for being a runner. He kept mostly to himself, took long walks, and loved to watch the animals of the plain and the fish in their waters without disturbing any of them.

Some called him strange. Many of the older women in the tribe called him a lover. One thing was true, inside his heart of hearts there was a fire burning so strongly for Coyote that he didn’t need the sun.

Every breath he took was hers.

Every bit of food he ate, when he remembered to, was hers.

Every step he took, in any direction, was a step closer to her.

And, when the last full moon rose, about a month before the race, he started to run at night.

The tribe, like many others, had several medicine men. The lowliest of them Circling Crow, who got his name because someone once said his treatments would go only about as far down the road to wellness as a bird with a lame wing.

Circling Crow had twice prophesied that wolves would be coming for the tribe’s young, which seemed unlikely since the tribe lived in an area where there were none to speak of, and none came to fulfill either prophecy or at all, for that matter.

The disgraced medicine man was possibly the only member of the tribe not interested in the race. He was young, not taken by Coyote’s enchantments, and only interested in earning his good name back.

His grandfather had been a great medicine man, as had his father. His own father had spoken the words that still rang in his ears; that one day he would be the most important voice of the tribe. Circling Crow aimed to make these words a reality.

Winter was fading. The snows were melting, and the river, no longer iced-over was high. One day, Circling Crow was walking out of the Lonely Pine Forest into the wide plains between the trees and the Lost Canyon. He heard something and crouched low. His ears and mind worked feverishly, trying to find the origin of the sound and what it meant. He crept nimbly through the high grass to the edge of a small clearing-and froze.

Circling Crow did not like owls-he had always been wary of them from the time he was small. His grandfather always told him to respect owls like no other creature, because it was the owl that signaled the approach of death.

In the middle of the clearing two owls were tearing at a carcass. Circling Crow, who was one of the stealthiest members of the tribe, tried his best to make himself invisible and silent. He did not want to be noticed by the large and dangerous predators. At first Circling Crow thought the two were busy with a rabbit, and he started to back away carefully. But then his eyes caught a flash of white, and, focusing, saw that it wasn’t fur that the birds were tearing.

It was an eagle.

He froze again. He had never heard of such a thing. His mind tried to work but couldn’t. His mouth fell open. Whatever was happening, it was bad. He felt it.

Circling Crow tried to slither away as noiselessly as he came, but he felt the wind change-the owls were now downwind. One of them raised his head, and the other did too. He closed his eyes, trying futilely to erase what he knew had just happened. He was marked.

He opened his eyes again, and the owls were gone.

His eyes searched the clearing and the skies above, but he was alone. After a few moments, he stood weakly. Moving forward slowly, he saw the remains of the eagle in the clearing. He approached it, bent down, and plucked a tail feather from the remains while reciting a chant to ward of the spirits he knew were circling him angrily.

He made his way back to the village, sure that his time, as medicine man and voice, had come. Looking down at the feather in his hand, he thought, “Standing Bear must see this.”

“Are you happy, Circling Crow?” Standing Bear asked the younger man once they were inside his longhouse. “I always hoped you would be as fulfilled as your father and grandfather, they were great men.”

Circling Crow hung his head and remained silent.

After a pause, Standing Bear took a seat and motioned for Circling Crow to do the same.

“Winter is dying,” he said. “I think the time comes for the Big Race. Will you be running for my daughter’s hand, Circling Crow?”

“I will not,” said the medicine man. “I have seen something, Standing Bear, and it bears hearing.”

Standing Bear closed his mouth and looked into his fire.

“The first flowers always know their time to push their blossoms through the last snows. The branches fill with buds when it is time for buds.”

“What do you mean?” Circling Crow wanted to know, not liking where the conversation was heading.

“There are no wolves around us,” Standing Bear stared at the young medicine man, who was hurt.

“I know there aren’t,” Circling Crow said angrily. “But I know a vision when I see one. Whatever has happened, let it be the past between us. I have seen something very disturbing, Wise One, and I would like to hear your thoughts on it.”

Chief Standing Bear remained silent, but motioned for Circling Crow to continue. The medicine man explained all that he had seen, up until the part where the owls looked at him. The chief listened closely, but when he heard about the eagle, he grew openly concerned.

The two men traveled to the clearing where Circling Crow had found the owls. They looked everywhere for the dead eagle or signs that it had been there, but found nothing.

“It was wise of you to come to me,” Standing Bear said, scanning the horizon.

Circling Crow could not help but feel pride. The Chief turned to him.

“It spares you further embarrassment,” he said. The medicine man was crushed. He held out the tail feather and began to speak.

Standing Bear held up a palm.

“There are three birds full of feathers in my headdress,” he spoke. “I’ve found them everywhere between the spot where the sun rises every morning and where it goes to rest every evening.”

He looked down at the younger man.

“You will be a great man one day, Circling Crow, when the flowers push through the late winter snows. Waiting, until then, is difficult. Especially for the young.”

One week later, the members of the tribe did not fail to notice Standing Bear leaving one morning and heading upriver.

It was happening.

Many of the braves, squaws and warriors taking part in the race headed toward special spots, where they hoped to pray and gain strength and inspiration for the race. The village was drained of life. As the sun began to set, a shadow approached Coyote under the sprawling branches of a pine tree.

It was Falling Rocks.

He neared her slowly, urging her to be quiet. She was nervous, as she was not supposed to see any of her suitors before the race. He brought a hand up, reached it into a pouch at his hip, and took out a bracelet. It was made of beautifully polished wampum, and held seven circular turquoise stones spaced evenly around the band. Coyote had never seen anything that beautiful before, and looked up.

Falling Rocks was gone.

The Chief returned a few weeks later and announced that the race would begin the following morning at sunup.

The night passed slowly. Hardly anyone slept. Winged Salmon spent the night getting loose. Most of the tribe stared upwards for hours, as the moon soared up into the night and glided slowly towards the dawn. Circling Crow stared into his fire, reciting incantations and trying to speak with those that had gone before him.

Falling Rocks was above them all. He sat on a nearby rise under the star-pierced wigwam above him. He had already returned the bear claw necklace to Standing Bear, and was enjoying his future life with Coyote. It was so real there behind his eyes he could feel it. Smell it. Taste it. And what he enjoyed most was the gaze Coyote returned to him whenever he looked her way. He was trapped in those eyes, drowning, but no need for air.

The darkness melted. Morning birds roused the groggy village. Mere moments passed until the slumbering tribe shed its drowsy skin and bustled. There were hugs and well wishes around. Songs were sung. People were dancing near the center of the village. When Standing Bear arrived, he thought he had never seen his tribe as joyful, and he was proud. Then he saw Circling Crow.

He was standing at the edge of a large circle of runners, listing to and fro, entranced. His eyes were blackened, and he had merged with his totem animal. He bumped through the crowd and stood on a rock.

Standing Bear hissed at him, trying to get him to remain quiet. Seeing what was coming, he moved forward to pull Circling Crow down from his rock, but it was too late.

The young medicine man let out a long, high-pitched screech that silenced the tribe. In the pause that followed, two or three jokesters made wolf calls. The Chief raised his staff and bade them to be silent. Maybe, he thought, Circling Crow has better news.

“You all know me,” Circling Crow began, staring around the circle. There was a strength in his eyes no one had seen before. “You all laughed at my prophecies when they failed to come true. Perhaps you’ll all laugh at this next one. But I promise you, you won’t be laughing long.”

“Circling Crow,” Standing Bear said. “Come down from there. We’ll talk about this in my longhouse.”

Circling Crow stared at Standing Bear. He continued speaking while he did.

“I have seen something which does not bode well for this tribe. I have made mistakes in the past, perhaps. I haven’t been the medicine man I wish I could have been. I haven’t lived up to the men my father and grandfather were. But does that mean I should give up trying? Does that mean you should ignore what I have seen? I hope not.”

He paused, looking at the tribe.

“I know what this race means to everyone. I know how much we need it. But I beg you now, do not run.”

The crowd grew unruly, and many began to shout and curse.

“I watched two owls tear the life from an eagle not far from Lost Canyon. This race is cursed. The only thing you all will find at the top of Eagle Peak is death and ruin. Do not run. We can still race another time…”

“Falling Rocks has started to run!” someone shouted.

The tribe burst into a confused mess. Some looked to their chief, others to family members, still others started to run towards Falling Rocks, but stopped again. Others started to run. No one knew what to do.

Wingen Salmon took off. He was their greatest runner, and he would not let Falling Rocks claim his rightful prize.

All of the runners followed. Young and old. Squaw, Warrior, and Brave. Starry-eyed and just ambitious. They were off. The breath coming from their mouths formed a wispy cloud that danced and snaked inside itself. Some of the older women, watching them all run upriver, began crying.

Standing Bear’s shoulders sank. He did not like how this day had begun. He looked again towards Circling Crow, who was shouting at everyone to stop running, and then his eyes found his daughter.

She was looking past the runners, somewhere up into the hills beyond, and smiling.

If she is happy, he thought, then I am.

The morning was cool, but winter had lost its bite. It was perfect weather to run in. And almost all of the runners wore smiles. After a few hours, they entered Lone Pine Forest, which towered above and around them, full of Nature’s vitality, despite the season.

Many of the younger runners and some of the squaws were already falling behind. Most of them would not make it up Eagle’s Peak Mountain, but they would try their best anyway.

The stronger runners were chugging along like stampeding bison, but with a lightness and grace like a strong autumn breeze. Many of them wore pouches in which they carried scraps of food to strengthen them, and, of course, their water bladders. Those who hadn’t thought of these were not only regretting it already, but the seed of failure began to grow in their minds. They had their excuse, if they should fail, and, because they did, would fail.

The hours passed. The sun rose weakly in the late winter sky. It provided little, hardly-needed warmth, but a glorious mid-morning light to highlight their way over the beautiful landscape.

Near the front of a long, irregularly-spaced line of runners, a group of the tribes healthiest athletes had formed. They ran tight and efficient, cherished the breaths they took and the way they landed and sprang forward. It was easy for them to do because they all loved to do it. The only question was which of them would run best?

At the front of this group Lightning Foot flashed forwards with the two squaws, Galloping Deer and Falcon Wings, as well as Seven Lightning Bolts, Runs With Rams, and the surprise member of the group, a tall brave named simply The Fleet One.

The group was running strong, but it was work. Somewhere not far ahead-they saw him from time to time-was Winged Salmon. He was setting a blistering pace, like a mountain lion on the heels of a rabbit. So intent were most of the members of the group on staying close to Winged Salmon, that they forgot he was trying to remain close to someone as well.

Winged Salmon knew the land like he knew the lines and curves on his own body. He had run over it thousands of times, in every direction, until there was nothing he could be surprised by, and nowhere to get lost. There was only an opportunity, everywhere in front of him, to run as fast as his feet could carry him.

And he was.

As time passed however, and he pounded more and more ground behind him, the thought crossed his mind that he still could not see Falling Rocks. It was the first moment of any run, of probably his whole life, that he doubted himself. As soon as those doubts arose, however, Winged Salmon quashed them a double dose of determination, and began to ran still faster.

The runners ran on for hours and hours. They ran from one end of the massive forest to the other, and, as the sun neared its nighttime home in the west, the first of them began to leak out of Lone Pine Forest. First Winged Salmon, then the group led by Lightning Foot, and finally the rest of the tribe’s runners. Many of them would not make it through the first night, and would return back to the village to dream of other conquests in the future.

They bounded over the plains between the forest and the Lost Canyon, where the first flowers had sprouted up from the last of the winter’s snow.

Their feet flashed and danced through the brush, kicking up snows. One or two of them fell, as the the ground was not only slippery, but very uneven, and it was getting dark. Some bled, but everyone kept moving towards the Lost Canyon.

By the time night fell, many of the runners showed the first signs of weariness. Their eyelids hung, they mouths watered, and their legs became heavy. The first runners were already wondering if Coyote was really that special, and those of them not running for her hand were already wondering if they had proven enough.

Still they ran on. They ran for hours and hours. They ran as night deepened, and they were forced to run more carefully. The quarter-moon, when it rose, did not provide them with much light, and the uneven ground was an accident waiting to happen.

They ran when the night creatures became active, and were still running when they returned to their dens. They ran past each other, and watched as others ran past them. They ran and joked, they ran and chatted, they ran in silence. And they were still running when the first day died, and the dawn rose on day two.

Winged Salmon had entered the Lost Canyon shortly before dawn. The rocky ground was treacherous, but he was used to it-had run there a thousand times. He made good time.

His feet pounded out the time, as did his breath. The breaths and pounding of his feet formed a song in his mind, a song he tried to sing as strong and as loud as he could.

The day was born, grew and aged during the chilly morning. Still the runners plodded on. Most were tired, but almost all of them were happy, running in the beauty of Nature with all of their friends. So, as the minutes waned into hours, the hours into daytime and night, they made the most of their journey and tried to drink it all in.

But still, up ahead, deep inside Winged Salmon’s mind, rose the question: where is Falling Rocks?

Back at the village, it was unusually quiet. Standing Bear was uncomfortable. There were only a few members of the tribe who hadn’t run the race, which meant the chances of running into Circling Crow were high. He was not looking forward to it.

Fortunately, Circling Crow was not eager to see anyone either. He had vanished. At first Standing Bear was glad about that, but, as the sun set on the second day, and there was still no sign of the medicine man, the Chief began to get anxious.

He stepped outside his longhouse and turned his face upwards. He felt the air fill his nose, and he inhaled deeply. There was something there he could not understand. He could neither name it or describe it; it seemed to come from nowhere in particular and grow.

The runners ran on for hours and hours, into the night that ended their second day. Those without scraps or water were nearing their limits, and they were forced to interrupt their running and scrounge. They fell back.

The group near the front remained tight, and moved swiftly forward. They began to look out for each other; they shared bits of food and helped each other up. But, as tightly knit as they were, each one of them had one thought they dreaded the most: that they would look up and realize Winged Salmon was long gone.

The villagers had two things to look forward to, and neither of them were good. They could either wallow in the endless, insufferable wait, and the lack of knowledge about the whereabouts of their sons and daughters-the largest portion of their tribe-or they could look forward to the crushed and dejected faces of the runners who hadn’t made it.

They returned slowly at first, one at a time, usually the smallest or oldest first, but then more and more regularly. As bad as it was seeing how low these runners were feeling, at least they were able to get some information about the race and its participants.

By the third day, the first warriors were coming back, and all of the braves except the Fleet One had returned. One of the warriors was Runs With Rams, who had twisted his ankle badly and was unable to continue. From him the villagers gathered a wealth of information about who was near the front of the pack and whereabout Winged Salmon was. However, not one of the returning runners could say anything about Falling Rocks. No one had seen him, not even, Runs With Rams guessed, Winged Salmon.

The winter had been harsh. One of the longest coldest stretches that anyone could remember had many people yearning for spring and the healing rays of the sun. The snows were deep, and the cold froze everything. Smaller animals could not scrounge for food as successfully as in years past, and had to depend on luck alone when it came to finding food for themselves and their families.

Many smaller animals did not make it, and that led to tough times for the predators. Times got so bad, that many hunters had to resort to traveling longer and longer distances to find food. Most of them headed South.

Including the wolves.

Late sometime deep in the night of the third day, eyes throughout the village, even those swimming in the deepest depths of dreams, flew open the instant the long lonely howl of a distant wolf called through the darkness.

Other wolves soon echoed.

The group following Winged Salmon had thinned. Some had fallen back, others had given up and returned to the village. As soon as they heard the howling however, all woes and weariness were forgotten. Runners hardly able to keep moving found themselves scooted briskly to the shelter of a larger group.

Once there, everyone slowed to a walk and tried to present no backs to the night. Warriors scoured the canyons and the first hills for weapons, but the land was barren and offered only rocks.

As the last of the group wound their way out of Lost Canyon and onto the first of many rolling hills, they felt the pack growing near, locked onto their scent. The wolves were hungry; and desperate.

The hours passed slowly in the village. Most of the tribesmen and women were awake, and they stared into the distance toward Eagle’s Peak expectantly. Some wanted to go to help protect the runners, but Standing Bear reminded them that the village was almost empty and very vulnerable.

The sun came up on the fourth day, and most of the village was still awake and waiting anxiously. No one wanted to eat or sleep until they got word that the runners, their sons and daughters, were not in danger.

A figure strode into the center of the village, where everyone was waiting. Standing Bear turned his head to see Circling Crow, still with blackened eyes, leading his horse. The two exchanged glances.

“Circling Crow…” the Chief began.

But Circling Crow turned his head. He led his horse out of the village, mounted it, and headed upriver.

Standing Bear hung his head, but not to hide his tears. He had no shame letting anyone see his sadness.

The day crawled by like the slowest tortoise, or the lowliest snail. It was already well spent when a scout just outside the village let out a wail. No one needed to be told to move.

Men, women and children ran to the scout; the hours of idleness had fanned flames of bubbling excitement, worry, and fear. These emotions crashed the dam and engulfed them all. There was shouting and pushing, but no one wanted to be alone.

All of them watched as Circling Crow and Seven Lightning Bolts returned-with cargo. On Circling Crow’s horse lay the bodies of three runners, including the Fleet One; Seven Lightning Bolts carried what remained of Falcon Wings.

They were quickly surrounded, and family members tugged at the dead. The wails were heard throughout the night.

Seven Lightning Bolts did his best to tell everyone who wanted to know what happened after the wolves attacked, but he had been gravely injured as well, and hadn’t slept in almost four nights.

Circling Crow said nothing. After unloading the bodies of friends and loved ones, he merely turned and headed back to those rolling hills, where there had been no place for the runners to hide from the hungry wolves that had surrounded them. He still had cargo to fetch.

Running is one of the easiest things people can do. Sometime around eighteen months to two years, babies take their first steps. Not long after that, they recognize that they can move at different speeds. Whether filled with anger, fear, or joy, they find that running pairs well with these emotions; in the case of the first two, running enables them to approach a solution, avert danger, and release these emotions. In the case of the third, joy, running is an expression of all that makes us alive. It mixes excitement and happiness and floods the runner with the joy of movement, of life.

There are a few things, however, which help make a good runner great. Strong muscles, bones and ligaments, of course. Breathing technique. Experience and practice. The right foods. Enough water. Many of these physical things are easy to gain and train, easy to implement.

Other things, though, aren’t that easy. How we deal with weariness and pain, for example, is a force that governs the way we practice and gain experience. Our ability to focus also plays a role. But there is a point every man or woman reaches where a full-on war between the body and the mind is unavoidable.

Over the most intense half day of Winged Salmon’s life, He burned through Lost Canyon, attacked a dozen hills, each higher than the last, until he reached the base of Eagle’s Peak mountain. He was at war, and winning, but it didn’t feel like it.

The sun shone high in the sky. The mountain was bathed in its spotlight, revealing greens in all shades erupting from wintry white, spurs and dips that spilled downhill like beautiful lengthy hair, and rocky outcroppings-the attributes that formed the face of the mountain’s boundless power.

Winged Salmon saw none of it. Over the last three days, he had shed himself of all that would hold him back from catching Falling Rocks. He remembered nothing. He noticed nothing. He gave his pain and weariness no voice. He had remade himself into a creature of movement, one with the wind. After running for three days, he still felt strong, or told himself he did. And he knew, in his heart of hearts, that he would finally catch Falling Rocks on the mountain.

However, as each impossibly fast stride was laid behind him, and his eyes scanned the heights above him fruitlessly, his heart, burning as the sun above, began to collapse in itself and exploded in a new and terrible anger. In that moment, Winged Salmon was gone.

At the top of Eagle’s Peak, in the middle of the night, Winged Salmon scoured the ground looking for tracks, hints or any clue of Falling Rocks’ presence, or the necklace he already knew was gone. He was aware of nothing else, and certainly not that he was darting around like a rabid dog.

At last he discovered three rocks that were spread out, but that had obviously, judging from the indentations on the ground, been pried apart. He threw himself earthward and inhaled through his nose, drinking every drop of Falling Rocks’ scent, even detecting the essence of Standing Bear and his necklace.

He rocked backwards, still on his knees, and howled at the sky with all that was in his core, until there was nothing left in his lungs to howl. That was when the first wolf had howled, and Winged Salmon missed it. He would have missed it anyway-he was gone.

There was only one thing he could do. He would run Falling Rocks down on the way back and yank the chain from his spindly, cursed fingers.

Winged Salmon had become a Skinwalker, a cursed creature of the night. He ran down Eagle’s Peak Mountain needing neither food not water, air or light. His feet had grown eyes and become like the wind itself, but flowed like water ever downwards. He heard not the sounds of the wolves closing fast, or the calls of his fellow runners trying desperately to scare them off.

His heart, in fact, steered him ever deeper into the black night, away from the coming catastrophe, keeping him safe but fueling him ever onwards into the depths of his now twisted mind.

Circling Crow needed three trips to bring back the dead and wounded. Four warriors, one brave, and two squaws had fallen, and three more warriors would soon follow, being unable to survive their terrible injuries.

As soon as he had completed his task, he sat himself on a little knoll facing Eagle’s Peak Mountain and began to pray. He prayed to the Great Spirit that all of the remaining runners be returned to their village, and gave praise when, one after another, exhausted and, for the most part, still weeping, they did so.

In the long stretches of time between arrivals, he gave thought to his purpose after all of his tribe were accounted for. He played out scenes in his mind: he would leave and roam the Great World behind the mountains, he would retreat to some corner of this other world and speak with no one, he would lay down his calling as healer, and other such youthful dramas.

In each of them, however, there was no heart and no desire to see the images brought to their conclusion. They were all just swirls of smoke rising from pipes of peace. At first that gave him no cause for consideration, but then he realized that this was because there was still something that needed to be done, a purpose more important than anything the Great Spirit could conjure.

And this purpose, Circling Crow felt, was approaching swiftly. He sang and prayed, heavyhearted but at peace.

The tribe busied itself with the needs of the injured runners, and of the grieving families. It took all of the energy, time, and patience they could muster. Standing Bear split his chiefly duties between attending to the grieving and injured, and comforting his daughter.

She was inconsolable. All of her beauty had been worth nothing. What’s worse, she said, it seemed to be the downfall of the tribe. Then she turned to him and asked a question Standing Bear could not answer.

“Father,” she said, “am I cursed?”

Standing Bear could not answer because evil beings were convincing him, at that very moment, that he was cursed.

The fifth day began much as the fourth day ended. Grieving and healing was the order of the day. The screams of the wounded had ensured another sleepless night in the village. Runners and non-runners alike showed faces emptied of life, and stumbled about without knowing where to or why.

Everyone tried their best to pull through the worst of times, which seemed to have no end. At the very least, there were only a handful of runners still upriver, making their way back. The smallest children, as well, were doing their part to aid the tribe out of their desperation, just by being themselves and playing.

It was long after the sun went down that evening when Circling Crow, still upon his knoll, thought he saw something moving upriver. He stood, peering into the darkness, trying to separate the shadows. The river, as it had thousands of years before the tribe was ever conceived, gurgled and splashed its way ever oceanward. On this night, however, it would never flow just the way it had again.

He saw a man. He was lurching badly from side to side. He stumbled and fell, but continued forwards in a crawl. Circling Crow left his knoll and ran upriver to the form. He found Winged Salmon crawling on his belly, like a snake, no longer able to lift his head.

His first thought, upon seeing the once great runner, was that he was impossibly thin. He took the once mighty warrior up in his arms and found he weighed as much as a young girl. Looking through the dim light into Winged Salmon’s eyes, the medicine man saw nothing there that reminded him of the warrior that was. He brought the shell of a man back to his hut.

For three days, Circling Crow fed Winged Salmon a hearty broth, rubbed herbs into his skin, helped him drink water, and chanted the most powerful incantations that he knew which would help the warrior to shed his unwholesome Skinwalker persona.

At the end of the third day, Winged Salmon rolled onto one side and got sick. Circling Crow clapped his shoulder.

The weather had changed. Winter was dead. It was still cold-especially mornings-but Nature was birthing itself anew. The birds in the boughs committed themselves to song with renewed energy. Cubs crawled out of their dens with their mothers. Plants dead in name only hoisted colorful flags, perhaps as messengers of the bounty the Earth would soon be bestowing on all of its creatures.

In the village, however, the tribe whose name meant ‘the people’ were still encased in the Season of Mortality. They hardly spoke, never sang, and grew thin. No one felt much like eating. Many of them were already well down the path toward becoming Skinwalkers as well.

Standing Bear had led a search party, along with a now healthy Winged Salmon and three of the best trackers in the tribe, to try and find Falling Rocks and his precious bear claw necklace.

They traveled for days and days and weeks and weeks until their feet bled and they couldn’t be lifted anymore. They turned over every stone from the village to Eagle’s Peak Mountain and back again. The best trackers they had could not turn up one single clue as to Falling Rocks whereabouts, or the bear claw necklace. It was as if neither ever was.

The party contained the best the tribe had to offer: its strongest, bravest, healthiest, and wisest members. They were persistent and could endure the worst for far longer than many others could, including one scout who had traveled forty days through a blizzard with no food and no warm clothing to save a young brave that had gotten lost and enslaved by an enemy tribe. He rescued the youngster and carried the weakened brave most of the way back.

None of them, however, not the hardiest or strongest among them, could help but to look toward Standing Bear for guidance. There was a desperation in their eyes that the chief did his best not to notice, but to no avail. All eyes were upon him. The fate of the tribe lay upon his aging, weary shoulders.

They returned sadly to their village.

While they were gone, Leotie, the chief’s daughter, left the village. She also had things to attend to.

She headed upriver as well, but stayed far behind the search party, well beyond the reach of the eyes and ears of the world. There was nothing more the tribe could give her.

There was nothing more to look forward to in her life. Any and all of her dreams were shattered, and the worst part was that even though she didn’t understand how, she knew she was responsible for all of the dreadful things that had befallen the tribe.

She was almost too weak to move forward, and she was too sad to cry or stay behind. There was nothing left of the Leotie that was.

Any last hope she had of recovering herself and her world had vanished like the morning dew the moment she had asked her father if she was cursed and he had not been able to answer.

She felt horribly for him, knowing what she was planning to do, but she could not live with the crushing disappointment her life had become.

Leotie carried herself to the top of the Lost Canyon, and, with a heavy sigh, hurled herself to the Great Spirit.

The search party found her on the way back. Chief Standing Bear had lost the light of the sun, but could not help noticing how easily the trackers and scouts had found this next bit of evidence that he was to be punished for something mysterious and unforgivable interminably. He raised his head to the heavens and begged the Great Spirit to tell him why.

Then he bent down and took his daughter into his arms. He tried to breath in her scent one last time, to burn it into his mind and lock it way inside his deepest of hearts. But there was no trace left to inhale.

The members of the search party hung their heads in silence, not knowing what to do and trying not to hear the sobs of their once powerful leader.

The sobs quieted, and the Chief spoke.

“Go back,” he said. “Take care of our tribe. Take care of the old, the sick, the young and the grieving. Give me three days. I have spoken.”

The Chief returned to the village three days later feeling desolate but strengthened. He felt he could handle the demands the world would have on his tribe and himself. And when he went back to the village, he brought with him an idea, one of hope, one that might just carry the tribe away from the Pit of Despair it now found itself in.

Unfortunately, there would be one last matter for him to attend to before he could share the idea with anyone.

For, when he entered the village again, they found several of the warriors beating Circling Crow, convinced he had somehow called woe down upon the tribe.

Chief Standing Bear and the other members of the search party separated the medicine man from the angry warriors.

“Fools!” he shouted. “This was the only man who foresaw the disaster that awaited us once our race was started. Not even I respected his advice, and ignored him when he urged me to delay its start. If you want to fight and kick someone, take me. I deserve it more. But remember this-my daughter is gone, just like many of your sons and daughters. We are all in this wretched state together, if you want to see it or not, and fighting amongst yourselves only delays getting out again.”

The Chief fell silent and looked at what remained of his tribe. Once proud, vibrant men and women, full of fire and hope, they had taken to stare disconsolately and to not look each other in the eye. The dwindled number of braves, warriors, and squaws could not be overseen. A change must come, he thought.

“Nothing this terrible has ever befallen our tribe before, in all the time I’ve belonged to it, and all of the time before that, I’m sure of it. It all began the moment our brave sons and daughters set out to run that ill-advised race. And I’ve decided the only thing that is going to pull us out of our misery, is another race.”

Heads turned.

“Are you mad, Standing Bear?” one of the men who had beaten Circling Crow shouted. “Will you not be satisfied until we’re all food for the crows?”

“Quiet!” the Chief said sternly. “The last race was run to pit each of us against each other, man against man or woman, young against old, for the promise of some prize. It was foolish and flawed to expect the Great Spirit to grace us with good fortune by dividing our strengths and ignoring the present in favor of some future good.”

The tribe was silent; it was the most vocal they had ever heard their normally reserved Chief be.

“We will run again. This time there will be no prize, no one will be given away. There will be no winners and losers, just one day where all of us can become, once again, proud and strong. We will start together and finish together. We will help each other along, take delight in each other’s successes and help each other overcome their failures. The race will begin at sunrise of the summer solstice. Make sure you’re all in good shape-you wouldn’t want this old man to make you look foolish, would you?”

What light was that creeping across the great chief’s face? It could not be a smile… Yet, there it was. The tribe was infused, in that moment, with more excitement and giddiness than it had felt since the morning of the race. Others smiled, and even approached the chief to express their grief over his loss.

And that is how, on the morning of the summer solstice, the entire tribe moved out at the first hint of daybreak, heading upriver. As the sun bathed all of their faces in its warming rays, the Chief looks from face to face and saw joy. Joy in being together, joy in moving, joy in being upon the great and beautiful, magnificent and magical place they called home. Each of them were where they were supposed to be; each of them was needed exactly where and how they were, with all of their problems and limitations.

His eyes scanned skyward to the clouds and to the setting moon, across the horizons toward the forests and the mountains beyond; his ears took in the calls of the morning birds and smaller animals trying to stay hidden, even the insects already buzzing around them; and, finally, he felt the cool morning air and the light breeze upon his skin. He looked down at his feet and smiled.

The powers of Nature form the blood of this world, he thought, and the light its heart. To be amongst it all was to want of nothing.

Upriver they headed toward Lonely Pine Forest, the plains beyond, with Lost Canyon, the rolling hills and towering mountains beyond that. As the tribe walked, jogged, scrambled, and shambled its way there, many became distracted. No one had spoken a word, but each of them got it into their heads that if they were to somehow find Falling Rocks, or the Chief’s bearclaw necklace, then the tribe would somehow return to the greatness it had known before the race that never should have been.

Eyes darted and searched, questions and comments were left unanswered, and shadows were paid close attention to. Even the Chief caught himself reading signs along the trail, also trying to uncover any clues.

The tribe was able to enjoy many years of prosperity and happiness, before larger shifts in history swallowed it and turned its contents into usable parts for other stories. Up until then, however, every year when the sun rose on the longest day of the year, the entire tribe assembled in the clearing at the center of their village and set out to run the race of all races. Even the slowest of them realized that, whether they found something or not, the race was the thing that would always carry them through when all hope was lost. And although no trace of him was ever found, and never would be, the runners reminded each other, either with words or with thoughts, to “Watch out for Falling Rocks”.

8 1/2 (12 1/2) Spectacular Benefits of Running Ultra Marathons

Most of us, when asked “Do you want to run 50 Kilometers up and down grueling forest paths for what seems like 62 hours until your breaking point is reached and you’re ready to lie down in the fetal position, probably in forest dung, with your thumb in your mouth and a ‘just let me die here alone’ look on your face?”, would not answer “No.”

We would answer “HELL NO!”

And we would be right, in a sense.  In First World countries of fluffy pillows and moon pies, it’s hard to see a world in which an ultra marathon would play any role, much less an integral one.

Like most people, ultra runners begin in the HELL NO, larval stage of this journey.  Some may be brave enough to be curious, as in: “What if?”

“What if I did run that far?”

And they might even train a little, right up until the day when they reach their first ascent, after which they find themselves in a fetal position, yearning for a moon pie.

In this article I will offer the poorly tallied 8 1/2 awesome benefits of running an ultra marathon, which will make you want to finally get up off of your a..um..accubita and challenge yourself.

I recently took part in the Ultra Trail Angkor, a 128.8 Km event that takes runners through the immense and beautiful UNESCO temple ruins in Cambodia.  One does not start off a running career with a race of this length, obviously, one starts off small and progresses to the longer distances.  Which brings me to my first benefit:

1), In order to complete, or even attempt, an ultra marathon, you have to believe you can do it.  The races are expensive (for poor slobs like me), and you wouldn’t want to invest a lot of money into running one if you didn’t think you could make it.  Something has to happen with your mindset that allows you to attempt the feat. 

A positive mindset is what we all need anytime we want to change for the better.  It is a conviction that change is possible and that the goals are reachable.  No improvements in your life are achievable without it. 

On the morning of the race I got up at 1:27 because I had to tinkle and couldn’t sleep any more.  [Bonus Benefit: you learn fast that if your heart is set on something your body falls into line, in this case by not needing a full night of sleep.]

My gear and supplies soon accounted for, I carefully loaded up for the walk to a different hotel, where the shuttle to the starting line, some 15K away would be loading.  Stopping in our lobby to shoot an exciting pre-race video, I naturally unloaded my supplies to do the filming.  By the time we got to the hotel ten minutes later I realized I had no headlamp. 

It was about 2:50, the bus was leaving in ten minutes, and if I wanted to see the rocky, twisted jungle floor I was going to be running over, I would have to run back to the hotel and find my headlamp fast.

2.), Here is yet another illustration of what we’re up against in life: unscripted problems will arise, but if you want to make it anywhere you have to make the best of it.  Whether running a race or in a job interview, panicking and getting frustrated only worsens the end result.  Running ultras forces you to keep calm and positive longer.

It was weird on the bus to the temples. The world was completely asleep-we were the only fools awake at that hour-but everyone on the bus was excited. We heard Bjorn telling Gordon excitedly, for example, that it was his first Ultra, in a voice that might have woken the dead. 

Congratulations to both of them-Bjorn for finishing and Gordon for finishing fourth! 

Bjorn feeling good. Should we tell him he’s only halfway?

At the start of the race my wife/coach and I met David from Taiwan-the”accidental sweeper”.  A sweeper is the runner who does not compete but stays at the back of the pack to provide assistance to the runners who have been bitten by poisonous snakes or alligators, busied themselves too long with bubble wrap, ensnared themselves in a gympie-gympie stinging bush, been maimed by wolverines, shot by hunters or the Soviet commandoes in ‘Red Dawn’, or are just dehydrated and too weak to continue, with the latter being the most likely (barely). 

David came in last in every event he ever entered-hence accidental sweeper-and there was good reason for that.  His nutrition for the race was, um… unorthodox.  David had started talking with us about beer before the start (4:00 AM). 

“When the sun comes up I’ll get my first beer,” he said. 

I thought that was great.  These races are supposed to be fun, first and foremost, why not get stupid doing it?

Well, maybe because you won’t finish (David didn’t), but it’s worth a try.  At least you have the right mindset.  Why go out there trying to prove something that can’t really be proven?

Anyway, I left David to…other pursuits, and moved up the pack a little.  After 15-20 Km or so, I began running with Mr. Oh (sp.?) from Korea.

“‘Oh’ as in ‘oh how beautiful!'” he told me, his arms spread wide and his smiling face turned to the sun.  Mr. Oh had a positive, gushing personality that made me want to run with him everywhere, if only to see if he would gush the whole time.

Somewhere I saw a guy from Holland dumping inside a clump of not-high-enough bushes.  Jus’ sayin’.  No, seriously, it was at this time that I realized that my time had also come.  The slow construction of a bowel colossus, sped up by my consumption of dates (maybe next time I’ll try beer) and loosened by all of the running, was nearing completion.  A race helper pointed me to a clean, comfortable toilet behind a temple.  I made sure to gloat when I came out of the toilet to find the Dutchman arriving there.

3.), When your heart is set on a goal, things will work out in your favor.  As noted in #2, when you keep an even keel and be patient, problems will all but solve themselves.  My example-going to the bathroom-obviously could be from any walk of life; under-standing the philosophy hidden therein is a useful tool that will carry one through many rough patches in life.

After my pit stop, I challenged myself to catch up to Mr. Oh. Running comfortably but consistently at the same pace, I met up with Bjorn! The kid from the bus from Chicago! When he told me he was from Chicago I said, “I know, you were loud on the bus.”  

He laughed and told me how nervous he had been. I also learned he was 23 and running his first ultra. He was so cute! He had picked a good one.  Yes, his first ultra was 64 Km long, which is long for a first attempt, and the temperatures would soar up to about 95 that day, but the race was about as flat as could be. The only hill:

After this hill there’s only 100 KM left!

This picture hints at Bonus Benefit #2, but only slightly, because I have, like,  a UFon 2 1/2, and kindergarten children can draw better pictures than I can take.  B.B.# 2: The landscapes of every ultra marathon I’ve ever seen are breathtaking.  They ALL have to be seen, but not necessarily during a race, that’s why this benefit is only in the minor leagues.

It was good to run with Bjorn; I felt like a big brother or, more accurately (gulp), his father.  I hope I provided him with some inspiration to keep pressing on when things got tight-like when he ran low on water and was miles and miles away from an aid station. 

Then, what a surprise, we were joined by Mr. Oh!  We all had a great time running through the villages where everyone between the ages of three and 80 were out cheering us on.  One boy about four ran out and handed me a cold bottle of water.

4.), It’s all about the people.  Whether you’re running in a race like this one or going through life, it is boring, sad, and unhealthy to try to go at it alone.  In an ultra marathon running with someone, or being in contact with the locals, only helps you finish.  Given a choice, would you rather have a nice car, spiffy clothes, a comfy accubita or a good friend?  When times are rough, how is another moon pie going to help?

Running ultras gives you the chance, almost unavoidably, to meet people and forge lasting friendships with like-minded crazies like you. 

About three and a half hours in, we arrived at the first and only hill.  It was something like 250-300 meters high, but it would be harder than those of us who didn’t pay attention to the race briefing that morning expected.  The hill would not be scaled by some tame forest trail that snaked its way around the hill to the top.  There was a temple up there and what felt like a zillion steps that led straight up to it.


  5.), There is almost nothing more fulfilling than completing an ultra marathon.  The pride and satisfaction one feels after challenging yourself to take it to the limit and beyond, and to see the trials and hardships all the way through from square one to the finish line are truly priceless rewards one keeps for a lifetime. Running an ultra is tough, and it requires discipline and heart, and if you don’t grow them fast, you will not reach your goal.

Every step is a challenge, as was every step on our hill. There is nothing metaphorical about it, nothing that can be argued away or dismissed-it is that way.  Therefore, completion equals something true and real, every time, whether you’re first or 441st, as I think I was once in Belgium.  It was muddy. 

It was exhausting, plodding away through the midday heat, but I was well prepared and made it through those stretches where the sun was particularly merciless and into another patch of Cambodian jungle.

We passed one aid station after another slowly, which brings me to my next great benefit.

6.) FREE STUFF!  Every ten kilometers or so another aid station popped up trailside with awesome race helpers who offered us not only water and energy drinks, but also free food. 

This race was pretty bare bones, selection-wise:  bananas and apples, and a choice of several dried fruits- loaded, sadly, with sugar.  I suppose a lot of runners might have been disappointed with the buffet, but it was perfect for me.  I’ve seen aid stations that offered not only several kinds of fruit, but also (salted) tomatoes and cucumbers, carrot sticks, energy bars and drinks, chocolate bars and potato chips, mashed potatoes, noodle soup, wine and beer, steaks, sarsaparilla, ocelot spleens, narwhal horns-OK, those last three were a total and complete lie 🤥 but you get the point.  Some of these aid stations are very well stocked, almost to a fault. 

AND, additionally, each racer was offered the opportunity to get a FREE TAN!  At least on the parts of their bodies that were exposed.  But the best thing a runner can receive doing an ultra is the FREE BEER at the end of the race.  Often the organizers wimp out and provide alcohol-free beverages.  Once, however, I took part in the Olympic 50K, which did not have a physical finish line per se, but damn well had a barrel of delicious, chilled Washington State IPA right there instead-a trade I’d take any day.

Theoretically, the Olympic 50 K might be a good first ultra to run, you can read why it might not be HERE.

But I digress… the first half of this race was something I can truly be proud of.  If I had run the 64K race, I would have finished 16th or so out of 75-unthinkable for me.  The only way that could’ve happened was if I had been prepared for the race.

7.), An ultra forces you to become as healthy as humanly possible.  You don’t “just run” one.  You have to be disciplined and consistent with your training and nutrition.  Because you are (hopefully) exercising more and eating healthier, you will feel better about yourself and the prospects of getting up in the morning.  One must also train their mentals, though: as I’ve said in #1, something has to change in your mind just to attempt the race.  This change should be reinforced, so that if you are still whining about the workouts or food in the latter stages of training, your chances of a DNF (Did Not Finish) rise.

This fitness level, physical and mental are exactly what goal-orientated people tend to have, whether they run or not.  Training for ultras show you how its done.

Somewhere around the 60 K mark disaster struck, however.  On Christmas Day last year my wife organized a surprise: Thai massages.  For most people these would have been a real treat:  Thai massages go into the deep tissue responsible for alignment and overall muscle health.  But I had been training intensely; some of my runs had been almost eight hours long.  This fact poses a problem.  There are ways to grope intensely trained muscles and ways one shouldn’t.  Our masseurs were talented enough, but they knew nothing about my training and massaged a time bomb into my leg.

After one training session following the massage my calf was hurt, and my wife said she didn’t like how it looks.

8.),  It’s important to pay attention to everything, no matter how small or unrelated it may seem.  Ultras teach us to attend to every detail, because everything you do matters.  Every step you take, the way you land and spring forward, the way you breathe, the way you eat and train-it all makes a difference.

Life is a grind that wears you down with monotony and tedious tasks, like ironing.  Most people start ‘blurring’ their lives-not paying attention to things they feel are unimportant: the ride to work or shopping, housework, for males: listening, etc.  It’s a natural reaction when one is bored or unfulfilled.  Ultras force you to take life as it was meant to be: meaningful.

Back to Km 60: I started to feel a nagging pain at the top of my calf.  By the halfway point, my calf was all but shot.  My wife did her best to massage some life into and drain some of the pain out of it but just standing up to begin the second half was torture.  Even something as beneficial as a Thai massage can ruin an otherwise perfect day.

9.), There is perhaps nothing that is developed more effectively when training for ultra marathons than a Persistent Mindset.  Life will provide you with limitless opportunities in life to be too tired or hurt, too hungry, too lazy, too dumb, too smarmy(!) -too ANYTHING to continue striving.  Sooner or later, if you want to reach your goal, you’re going to have to dig down deep and continue fighting where there’s no fight to be found.

Which is why I slowly hobbled my way to the start of my ‘back nine’.  I knew it was going to be rough from there on out (a ridiculous understatement), but was still optimistic.  I hoped to walk it out for a bit and loosen the terrible tightness in my calf. 

My wife watched me limp off and said to herself, “He’s not going to make it.”

The heat bore down in its afternoon fury.  

I found a method or ‘gait’ that allowed me to continue to jog at a very slow pace over short stretches.  After the next aid station at about Km 74, however, we entered what I will call the “Death Zone”-after areas on extremely high mountains where death is more certain with each passing second spent there. 

My Death Zone was ’only’ 12 Km long, but almost perfectly straight and endless-it felt more like 52 Km.  That fact, combined with the heat, was unbelievably draining.  There would be no more running.  

When my wife arrived at 96 Km, she did not like what she saw.  My calf was swollen and very warm.  The pain had spread into the back of my thigh, and even my Achilles tendon was affected.  She did what she could, but it came down to a choice:

Did I want to be a hard-ass and risk possible permanent injury to prove something, or did I want to be sensible and accept it.  Three weeks later, I still cannot walk without pain.  I won’t be running anytime soon.  I am certain I could have finished that race, but I know in my heart I made the right decision.  

I dropped.

10.), Ultras teach you that there are times when it’s better to quit and it’s OK to do so-one dreaded DNF does not a failed life equate.  There is a time and a place for everything, and though you  may have lost the battle, in the grand scheme of things there’s always a chance to win the war.

Unless of course you willed yourself into a permanent injury.

11.), It’s also safe to say you’ll burn a few calories along the way:

Because this piece is already too long, I’ll just mention that the eleventh benefit of ultras is the most obvious: ultras improve your figure.  Duh.

12.), And because ultras are run everywhere, they give you the chance to meet people from all over, from New York to New Zealand.  You’ll gain a broad world view.  And see scorpions, maybe.  I did.

12 1/2.), The SWAG!!  After completing the Ultra Marathon of your choice, you’ll be rewarded at the finish line with a prize selected especially for you.  A..and everyone else who finishes.  Since I did not finish my race, I’ve only counted this as half a benefit, so you may even have more rewards than I do! 

Examples of Swag are medals, cool trucker hats  (Squamish 50/50):

Different colors for the amount of times you’ve finished? Oh, I’m all over that!!

whatever this is:

Real wood!


…T-shirts, and one of the most coveted (and ugliest!) objects in all of ultra running: the Western States Belt Buckle.

Then there is the Pounamu Pendant one receives when finishing the Tarawera 100 Miler in New Zealand.  Pounamu is a green jade that the Maoris considered so valuable they would never sell it, but instead give it to someone who had earned it.  What better way to remind you of your ability to do the unthinkable with your life than wearing something priceless around your neck.

Finally, these are the shoes I was in the whole time:

You can almost smell them!!

      (see benefit #9)

     The holes were there pre-race.  Make sure you have, like, shoes, for the race-why I didn’t is a story in itself, for another time.  I’m hoping my DNF is more understandable now.

The bad news about running Ultra Marathons is that once you start, you’ll never want to stop.  It’s hard to stop doing the amazing when life is trying to drown you with dull, boring conventionality.  

Point me to the next one…

Kite of Gold?

I remember one year my brother and I decided we absolutely had to have one of those cool plastic painted kites for three dollars, and my Dad, for whatever reason, acquiesced. The day was windy, and a manly sea-breeze blew from East to West, parallel to the beach, as if it were doing that bodybuilding pose where you turn to one side and everyone can be amazed that you not only have biceps but that even the muscles on your back have muscles on them.

What wondrous beauty! Can I get ice cream?

After six and a half minutes of watching the kite be aloft and wheel to and fro in the sea breeze, both of us were bored and alerted our parents that we were ready to do something else. My father, rightly peeved, grabbed the controls and took over kite enjoyment duties. On a whim I urged him to let out some line and see how high that baby could fly.

It was already very high.

My Dad obliged, probably curious as well, and we watched as the kite soared what seemed like miles up into the stratosphere. Which is where, predictably, in that masculine wind, the almost quality string snapped and the kite dive-bombed like dignity or respect in this modern world over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

My Dad was always cheap and was certainly not going to let three dollars go to waste. One time he picked us up at the golf course and, because my friend Scott wanted to ride in the car to our house and not on his bicycle, took 50 cents to drive my friend there and hold the aforementioned bike out the window the whole time.

As I said the kite had been VERY high, and was now out of sight around the curvature of the Earth. I think my father was gone for the next four hours, but he did come back with his three dollar kite.

Which we never flew again.

Insert meaningful moral here.

RIP Big D. 1934-2019

They don’t make ’em like they used to…