So why do I run? These days the short answer is; I get to see what happens on the other side of the fence ‘up close and personal’. For those of you who see life with African eyes, or your own even smaller little world: Come, let me share what I see. This is going to be difficult, I must pick from a thousand pictures.
A colleague discovered that I had completed the Comrades Marathon; that gruelling (why does the press label it gruelling?) 90 kilometre race between Pietermaritzburg and Durban in South Africa, not once, but ten times. She commented: “I really don’t know whether to feel sorry for you or to admire you”. That entire lunch hour and more such lunch hours I babbled on enthusiastically and shared my … expert … opinion about the why, how, when, what and where of running for me. I heard years later that she too had taken up running and was an enthusiastic marathon runner. Denise if you’re reading this: Good on you, I admire you!
These days my answer is no less enthusiastic but more concise. When you are globe-trotting and you run or cycle; you inadvertently hear and see more than you would otherwise have done.
Rainbows in a memory bottle
A memory that you would find intriguing takes me back to a jog in Bruges. It was a crisp spring morning, new leaves, green fields, daisies everywhere; a rainbow kissed the tip of a picturesque stone-built windmill. It must have been a Sunday, I remember church bells ringing, lots of them, it gave me goose bumps. Markt Square, near where we stayed, features a thirteenth century belfry with a forty-seven-bell carillon. I ran along the banks of one of the many canals winding through the parks. I agree with Bruges being described as the Venice of Belgium with its cobbled stone walkways and bridges crisscrossing the canals. Horse-drawn carriages with poop catchers under their tails clip clop on cobbles are every bit as a romantic form of transport as gondolas.
A wooden shoebox, a stick and a 3-legged stool
After about an hour of running, I turned back towards the hotel, my waiting companions and breakfast. I was enjoying my outing, and made my way along a tree lined street. Spreading branches joined hands above me and formed a protective tunnel. Whenever I see spring freshness in the leaves or smell rain on last autumn’s leaves at the base of a tree I remember that morning.
When my eyes adjusted from the brightness of the morning; to the shady gloom of my tunnel I saw that I was not alone. I saw people walking, determinedly and with focus, they were all carrying something. I assumed everyone was going to church; carrying Bibles and prayer books or whatever it is, they take to church with them. Hadn’t the bells been ringing for the last hour?
An angel came to visit …
Then I looked closely at all these people; what I saw made me stop and walk, made me forget food, forget I had someone waiting for me back at the hotel. These people had an undercurrent air of restrained excitement about them. It reminded me of runners back home making their way early on a Sunday morning to the start of a road race. Each person was carrying a small wooden box; the size of a shoebox; a wooden walking stick; and a small wooden stool. I was captivated and followed; all were completely silent, no-one said a word. So, I didn’t either. I was dying to ask what’s happening.
Then one by one they stopped; spacing out along the street at about 40 metre intervals from each other. Each person set down his stool, sat down, leaned forward and placed his box on the cobbles in front of him, the length of the walking stick away; then placed the stick crosswise on the ground between himself and the box. I say him, but there were also several ladies.
A silent crowd gathered to watch. A group of officals approached carrying clipboards; one carried what proved to be a stop watch. They stopped in front of the first person; the stop watch lady nodded at her. She leant forward, picked up her stick and gave the box in front of her a gentle tap. Heaven descended on that quiet street, an angel came to visit. At a nod from the stop watch lady and a second tap, silence engulfed us once more. Turns out it was a canary singing competition.
Would I have stumbled upon that if I had not been out running? Somehow, I don’t think so.
Living the dream, Mate
“Oi! How ya going, Mate?”
“Oi! Just living the dream, Mate. Just living the dream.”
This exchange was overheard on a morning run in Sydney’s Inner West between two workers pitching up for work at a roadworks building site. Being me, I looked up the Aussie dream later. You can too. On my return jog, the whole gang was at work. The gang included two pretty girls, pulling their weight conscientiously alongside the men. Huh? Girls do this in Australia? Sure, mate they do. This in an egalitarian society, with equal respect for occupations. There is no class distinction just because your job is skills-based rather than professional.
Just last week this was confirmed on dustbin day here in Bunbury. Dustbin day means bins are lined up on the verge with their green, yellow and red lids, each colour means a different type of rubbish collection. It’s all automated, a truck drives past slowly, extending robot-like arms to pick up the bins and tip them into the dump truck and then sets them down again. Not too much labour is needed.
In one of the side lanes, too cramped and crooked to accommodate this kind of set-up; a team of ladies was at work, one driving the truck and two working together to lift and empty the bins into the back of the truck. One lady was even wearing lipstick! It was a cheerful trio that waved me on my way.
The Leschenault Monster
We have established our home from home in yet another estuarine environment. It helps to still the longing, because after all nature remains nature. Oh, how I miss that beautiful place.
One of my favourite runs in Bunbury takes me all along the Leschenault Inlet. This estuarine lagoon runs parallel to the shore, separated from the Indian Ocean by a thin barrier of sand dune known as the Leschenault Peninsula. Man has interfered somewhat with its direct access to the Indian Ocean to improve the Bunbury harbour. The result is a 25 square km lake; paradise and host to various boat, rowing, angling; kite surfing and other sporting clubs. The beautiful promenade known as Frank Buswell Foreshore has paved walkways; these are shared peaceably between pedestrians, cyclists and several forms of skating and boarding. How I love these misty autumn mornings. I do wonder about the effect of the manipulation of water and land on fauna and flora though. Fishing in the inlet has been described only as okay.
One morning I jogged along the river path that ducks under the highway bridge. It is in a more remote part of the walkway, I was counting my blessings as I ran; feeling safe, energised and grateful that I did not have to be on a fearful lookout for assailants. I stopped to catch my breath, to soak up my surroundings, to just be. Then I saw two beautiful pebbles in the muddy bank. I moved closer to see better. There were tiny little twigs around the stones, and then the whole lot moved. I screamed. These stones became eyes and then a mini-monster appeared, all claws and legs as it snatched at some or other larvae or fish. Live crabs are scary at the best of times, this one was enormous and horrific. It looked as though its legs and carapace were held together, and now I am going to be gross, by the gooey pus of leprous sores.
I did some homework. Blue Swimmer Crabs aka Blueys, are described by the Department of Fisheries, here in Western Australia (WA) as powerful swimmers, voracious hunters and scavengers and dinner table favourites. The commercial crab catch off the shores of WA, particularly in this region exceed 1 000 tons a year. Remind me not to eat crab ever. Blueys can grow to have a carapace of up to 25 cm and a claw span of 80 cm. The largest recorded blue swimmer crab caught in WA weighed in at more than a kilogram. Their hind legs are disc-shaped, which they use as paddles when they swim. And yes, along the carapace on either side of the eyes there are nine spikes called horns.
During a stock assessment in December last year, the Department of Fisheries discovered that there was an outbreak of a bacterial shell disease amongst the blueys in Bunbury harbour. About 50 crabs were noted and this prompted further investigation. Local and commercial fisherman were advised not to collect or consume crabs. I found it so cool that the science teacher at the local secondary school got a wonderful citizen science project going with her learners. Once a week the class goes down to the harbour to collect information and record observations for the Department of Fisheries. Members of the public are requested to report any sightings of affected crabs to Fishwatch and where possible take a photo. The one morning I ran without my camera.
Perambulation of puppies
Not all my sightings are yucky. There’s the little old lady I see every morning in her electric wheelchair taking her little poodle for a run. Sometimes it sits on her lap, nose to the wind, missing only some goggles and a helmet. I once spotted them having breakfast out in the sunshine at the Rowing Club. We recognise each other now, nod and smile, each grateful we are not the other. In fact, it’s a friendly business, this exercising first thing in the morning; runners, cyclists, walkers nod, wave and smile on their respective ways to the lighthouse or lakeside foreshore.
One of my cutest sightings was the day a couple came jogging from the front, dad with a dog on a leash and mom with a push chair. They were chatting as they were jogging. I thought what a lovely family way to start the day. When we passed each other, I glanced into the pram. What I saw made me gasp. It was full of tiny puppies. I would love to have taken a photograph. I hesitated. As the saying goes: ‘He who hesitates is lost’.
Every school morning, learners stream towards the skate park on their bikes, even if the park is the opposite direction from school. Do the parents think their kids are eager to get to school? Once a week a young girl in her early twenties gets on the tractor mower and cuts grass at the secondary school.
Silver Sports Program
Outdoor fitness equipment has been installed by the City of Bunbury all along the foreshore. I see people, all the time, working out on a cross trainer or cycle seat while enjoying a view of the inlet. The city council also supports what it calls it’s Silver Sports program; an initiative to encourage exercise amongst the elderly. We watched an elderly couple doing pull ups. They looked much older than me. The woman did several perfectly. It was amazing. I don’t think I like her. 😊 We clapped when she was done.
On Tuesday mornings, moms and tots in prams gather on the lawns next to the gym equipment to do their exercises. On Wednesday mornings, at the Bunbury Rowing Club, a young girl, kitted in a wetsuit stands in icy waist deep water, alongside her pupils, teaching rowing techniques. Her pupils are senior citizens, so old they need help into and out of their canoes.
On my lighthouse run, there are always; come hell or high water, sunrise or sunset, some surfers riding the waves. Last Sunday was miserable, the first day of real winter weather. After being cooped up all day we went for an evening walk to the lighthouse and back. A young man braved the ocean without a wetsuit. His dog kept watch eagerly for the ‘fetch’ stick thrown by his master. Just watching them was energising, you could feel the exhilaration. The perfect anti-dote to cabin fever.