When darkness descends upon the trails of life, we can illuminate them with our heart, soul, and indomitable spirit
New research from Cornell University shows that spending as little as 10 minutes in a natural setting can help us feel happier and less stressed out. Additionally, nature makes us smarter, stronger, healthier, and happier, according to the National Park Service website.
Tucked away in the heart of Carmichael, California, close to my home, Ancil Hoffman Park has become my slice of paradise for the past seven years, but especially during the pandemic.
Like a baby finding its footing in a new world, I had first discovered the park by tentatively walking and hiking. With renewed curiosity, I also biked on the winding paths around the legendary golf course renowned for its design and indelible beauty. But the act of running through the trails shaded by oak trees cemented my newfound love of the park.
When I first started to run the loop around Ancil Hoffman Park, I felt empowered with every step and stride. Although I had been a tennis player for more than twenty years, I had never experienced such elation until I became a runner at the age of forty-one. I loved being surrounded by soft dirt paths that wound around the golf course, by roaming turkeys and deer, as well as the occasional coyotes who were often too shy or scared to approach.
As I became more confident in my running abilities, I started to write short poems in my head that matched the pace and rhythm of my breath. At the end of my run, I would write down the poems that often flowed freely from my memory.
The more I ran, the more the poems spilled out of me like a river, which was exhilarating, since I mainly wrote prose and did not consider myself a poet. But what else was I supposed to do with all the alliterations — “fall leaves that float and fuse freely,” or “the sun that skipped and skinny-dipped into the pond” — that popped in my head while running and respiring?
Although I was a novice runner, I started to experience runner’s high every time I laced up, as well as drift into the metaphysical nature of running, which I describe as “a wide-open window to infinite paths and possibilities, a whisper of hope anchored on the trail,” in my book of poems The PR — The Poetics of Running, a Book of Poetry in Motion that I published five years after I started my journey. All the inspiration came from the sheer beauty of my slice of paradise — a true oasis, my home away from all the homes I have ever loved. The poetics of running was nothing more than tranquil and serene time spent in nature.
I loved running through Ancil Hoffman Park so much that I always tried to bring friends along to share in my experience. My favorite way to capture these moments was by asking a bystander to snap a photograph, thereby immortalizing all the beauty and joy that surrounded us. One day, my friend Andrea and I stopped a woman walking on the trail and asked her to take our picture. With a smile as wide and beautiful as the trail, she asked us:
“Are you girls twins?”
“No, we’re not even sisters,” we replied, giggling, though we would consider ourselves soul sisters.
The more I ran, the more I saw, understood, felt, and lived in the moment. Although the scenery and my route were roughly the same every time I ran, I had learned to see things with new eyes. As Marcel Proust said, “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.”
I completely agree with Proust’s assessment, except for one winter evening when my headlight gave out on me. My eyes were of no help on the trail that was as dark as a cave. As I ran, I tested my memory of the path the same way I used to recite poems by heart in Romania. I also remembered the martial arts movies with Jean Claude Van Damme who was taught to fight with his eyes closed. I imagined that I was him. I ran feeling the roots, rocks, leaves, and grooves on the trail. I swirled in faint shadows, pranced around the loose leaves, and became comfortable with being, not seeing.
When darkness descends upon the trails of life, we can illuminate them with our heart, soul, and indomitable spirit. I realized that paradise exists in both the internal and external world, which brought me even closer to God. Although we seem to be endlessly stumbling through the darkness sometimes, we can still follow our inner light and find our paradise.