For several years now I've enjoyed my workout on the Fox River Trail. I wish my triathlon consisted of running, biking and swimming, as it does with many athletes. However, my triathlon is a bit different: I begin my trek on the trail by a steady jog which lasts for just a few moments, not miles. Before long the jog turns into a pretty brisk walk. An hour later I'm finally crawling back to my car! Because I'm often crafting letters in my mind or working on homilies or this blog while on the trail, and because I want to spare people from calling 911 as they see me run, I try my best to avoid the public while doing my 'therapy.' Towards that end, I usually drive out to Heritage Road over by Legends; I park the car there and then head south. The trail is gravel as I make my way out to the trestle beyond Old Martin Road. I'm the one donned in the black jogging attire. No, that's not due to my clerical state, but rather because I'm trying to catch a few extra rays -- the sun is attracted to those wearing black. Quite honestly, I'm usually the only one wearing such a drab color in the recent 90 degree weather!
Beyond avoiding the public on the trail, I also like the serene nature of this stretch of the route. Because of fewer walkers, runners and bikers at this point, other creatures seem to get their exercise on this stretch of property as well. There are rabbits and bunnies galore; many squirrels -- as you can imagine; I've encountered many, many deer over the years, and I've even come into contact with two skunks -- that freaked me out to say the least. Given the smell that sometimes exists on the trail, I would suspect that others may have encountered them as well -- in less friendlier circumstances, perhaps!
I have not been on the trail this week now that my route is closed on weekdays due to maintenance. While out there on Saturday, I could tell that there's quite a bit of work taking place on my most frequented stretch of the trail. While watching the news I've discovered that the stretch of the trail that I use most will now be covered by a nice layer of asphalt. In fact, some folks are now taking up a collection [we clergy aren't the only one's who do that, so it seems!] to continue pavement beyond Rockland Road all the way out to Old Martin. So, I have a bit of a dilemma; do I enjoy the new digs and take advantage of the trail's new luxury surface, or do I flee even further south to seek the greater solitude and quiet -- along with my critter friends?
This week's therapy has given me a bit of an answer -- albeit by surprise. Needing to avoid the trail construction, I've been hitting the treadmill in the priory each A.M. after Morning Prayer. The room has been like a sauna this past week, and there's not much to see out the window given the arrangement of the workout furniture. But there is good news. The TV in the workout room now works! It's a pretty new TV, but I haven't been able to get a picture since it was purchased. I suspect Father Tim may have pushed a few buttons while he uses the room -- somehow it just works now -- so that's a welcome distraction from staring at the walls. ...Or is it?
On Monday I tuned on the Today Show and guess what, "Today's throwing a wedding!" Again? You've got to be kidding. Now I realize that weddings are a Sacrament of the Church -- they were "instituted by Christ," as we believe. But I often preside over two weddings each weekend -- here at Old Saint Joe's and a couple on the road this summer for recent graduates. Actually, I really enjoy doing so. But watching these total strangers on TV gear up for the best dress and tux; stuffing their faces to taste the perfect cake; getting an artist's rendering to determine if the bee hive or the Paris Hilton hairdo accentuates or distracts from the bride's best look for a five minute skip down the Rockefeller Plaza --- it's just too much to endure. Skipping to other channels is even worse! All of a sudden, I miss the spray of the skunk, the stench of the DePere compost fields -- I never thought I'd think it, "Green acres is the place for me. Farm livin' is the life for me. Land spreadin' out so far and wide, keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside."
Hitting the trail is my therapy. Hopefully it aides in my physical condition. But beyond the exercise, it does get me away for some peaceful quiet time. As I've said here before, it is as much of a theological, spiritual and cognitive pursuit as it is physical. And sometimes it's homiletic as well. While out there on the former train route, I often think of the Rob Reiner classic, "Stand By Me" released back in 1986. The movie is the re-telling of the book, "The Body" wherein four buddies walk the railroad tracks in search of a dead body, hoping to receive a reward for finding the missing person. As the story unfolds they realize that in their search for a corpse, they actually end up finding themselves. Well on the Fox River Trail, I'm not searching for any corpses, thanks be to God. But in a search for the right words for a letter, a homily or the next blog, I often find people who add a pleasant beginning to a new day as they wave, say hello or simply catch my eye offering a rushed smile. Sometimes they inspire me to find something to think about, write about or talk about. Their story helps me find my story, and for that, I'm most grateful. Strangers becoming friends on the journey, they remind me even in DePere's wilderness -- in solitude or in company, "God's flock is in your midst, give it a shepherd's care!"
Enjoy the sun and the drier weather, folks! ...And, oh yes, "Happy Trails!"
Father James Baraniak, O. Praem.