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Rolling on the Cobblestones

Sunday, 15 Jun 2014, 20:01 UTC

1. After the Race

The sun was going down. The Canadian springtime evening was getting cold. We changed out of our sweaty race clothes, walked towards Rideau Street and watched the sun set behind the hills across the river in the west.

Then we wandered to Byward Market for something to eat, settling finally on The Highlander Pub. Best fish-and-chips I’ve ever had.

We sat on the patio. We were in no hurry. We sat and watched the world go by as we waited for our food. And when our batteries were finally recharged, we paid our bill and walked down George Street toward the bus stop on Dalhousie.

2. Rolling My Ankle

It was quiet there compared to the patio outside the pub. And it was dark. We stepped between two parked cars to cross the cobblestone street.

And here is where it happened.

I stepped off the curb, a step that was only an inch or two down, and I rolled my left ankle. My leg folded out from under me. Hands in pockets, unable to catch my balance, I fell into the street. Hard, elbow slamming directly into the cobblestones.

What I remember is this: a brief instant of confusion, the impact of my elbow, the clang of my race medal bouncing off the street, and my head bouncing twice off the ground. Thankfully by the time my head hit the ground, my elbow has broken my fall, so I was fine. But I had turned my ankle hard, and my elbow hurt. 

3. On Not Standing Up

“Are you ok!?” Trudy asked, relieved when she realized that the street was barricaded and so there was no rush to pull me out of oncoming traffic.

“Yes,” I said, struggling to sit up. Then the world went fuzzy.

The blood raced out of my head down to my ankle. You might know this feeling: stars at the periphery of your vision, tunnel vision, ringing in your ears, the smell of losing consciousness.

I knew that the last thing I needed to do was to stand up.

I scooted myself inch by inch back onto the curb up against a tree. Or was it a parking meter? Anyway, I sat there for a minute. Several minutes. No, many minutes. No, enough minutes that we didn’t catch the bus and ended up having to wait 30 minutes for the next one to come.

4. Evidence to the Contrary

Why am I telling this story?

About a week ago I sent a friend a note telling her about rolling my ankle. She’s a runner (a serious one), and I thought it would be a good runner’s commiseration. And since the Trudy features prominently in the story (having been prepared, after all, to pull her fallen husband out of the street), I CC’d her, too.

In this message, I said, and I quote, “Even though Trudy was the only one who had a beer, I fell into the street…”

The next day, Trudy walked into the study in the evening and looked at me.

“Do you really not remember having a beer that night?”

I stared blankly back at her. I searched the vaults of my impeccable memory. I drew a blank.

“No,” I said, “I don’t.”

“You had a beer,” she said. At which point the dimmest of memories returned, a memory of tasting her beer and ordering one myself. And although I honestly don’t remember any more than that, I suspect that if those fish-and-chips were so incredibly good, I must have really enjoyed that beer, too.

The day after that, I got an email from the fair and industrious Trudy. There was a photo attached. I submit that photo here as documented evidence. There you’ll see my 10K race medal. And there you’ll see me gripping the silverware in anticipation of those fish-and-chips. And there you’ll see the reflectors on my running jacket shining in the flash from Trudy’s camera. And finally, yes, there you’ll see an almost empty glass of beer sitting undeniably close to my right hand.


So there is no question. I did drink a beer. 

Now of course, that beer had nothing to do with rolling my ankle on George street, but at this point I think my credibility is shot, so I’ll just sit down.

Gatineau Park

Saturday, 14 Jun 2014, 22:04 UTC

Just outside Ottawa across the river in Quebec there’s a wilderness. Turn left after you cross the bridge, drive up the sloping road, and turn right. The city disappears behind you. The forest envelopes you.

We went there to hike two trails that the fair and industrious Trudy had selected from the many in the park.

We went to Champlain Lookout and gazed out over the farms and woods and river bottom land that once upon a time a very long time ago was Atlantic ocean washing up against the very bluffs we stood on. We sat and enjoyed the breeze and ate snacks and then turned to follow trail number 9.

Now if you look at a map of the Gatineau trails PDF, you will see that the trails wind around and thru creeks and ponds and lakes. At each turn you are met with rivulets or still pools.

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And at each turn we were met by swarming clouds of mosquitos and black flies. “It’s that time of year,” they told us later at the visitors center. “Silly Texans,” we thought to ourselves. No wonder we had the trail to ourselves.

So there we were in this wilderness of green leaves and dark waters and … is that a what I think it is across that pond? Anyway, there we were in the midst of this stunningly beautiful place on a stunningly wonderful spring day, and because of the mosquitos and flies assaulting us, we could barely stop to take pictures of each other or the wonders we found at each turn. And yet…

We descended into low, swampy areas where the Garter snakes slithered out from under our shoes.

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And we saw dark groves of Hemlock trees soaking up the light of day.

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And Ferns uncurling.

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And flowers… If only those mosquitos… but the flowers, just look at them.

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But oh those darned mosquitos!

The Kindly Hosts that Brung Us

Saturday, 14 Jun 2014, 13:15 UTC

Kindly hosts

A Walk in the Park

Thursday, 12 Jun 2014, 20:58 UTC

We left to go for a walk in the park, dad, Khadija, Trudy and I. But the roads and bridges were closed for the full and half marathons. Yet, they have plenty of parks in Ottawa, so there were many possibilities, and we gradually made our way to Andrew Haydon Park on the Ottawa River.

There were sailboats moored in the harbor at Nepean Sailing Club on Lac Deschênes.

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There were lagoons surrounded by deep green lawns and trees and pink blooming Crabapples

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which Crabapples we don’t get to enjoy very often, so we did.

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There were Canada geese, parents and goslings in a row.

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And finally, oh look. There across the lagoon: the kindly hosts that brung us!

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A Bumblebee

Monday, 09 Jun 2014, 21:13 UTC

In Ottawa, in a park, on a cool sunny day, at the base of a Maple tree, rummaging and buzzing and turning in the grass and pine needles, we saw a Bumblebee.

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(If you look closely, you’ll see the Maple tree of which I speak.)

There used to be Bumblebees here, they say. But I haven’t seen one in many, many years. A Bumblebee, just imagine it! We saw one with our own eyes.

Garner State Park

Monday, 09 Jun 2014, 20:04 UTC

Let’s take a little detour for a moment. I know that we’ve been talking about Ottawa and Quebec and ducks and poplar trees and all that. But it how about this for a moment…

Garner State Park. On the banks of the Rio Frio. Perfect spring in Central Texas. Blue skies and sunshine by day. The air still cool the the sun warm. Cool dark nights.

Texas Persimmons shooting out spring green foliage.

Garner persimmon

Prickly Pears abloom.

Garner yellow rose

And yes, the fair and industrious Trudy casting magic spells over a cast iron pot. 

Garner dinner

I know with the cool breezes and spring green colors and all, you’ll know that this was a while ago, but I’m telling you, it really doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.

Ducks in Flight

Sunday, 08 Jun 2014, 20:12 UTC

Did I tell you that there were ducks in flight as we drove across the countryside of southwestern Quebec? There were. Two ducks. I saw them as we drove down highway 40 headed west.

Two ducks. In flight. Crossing from some place off beyond the woods to the south. Flying to some place off beyond the fields to the north.

Ducks in flight


In Ottawa

Sunday, 08 Jun 2014, 19:10 UTC

In Ottawa they have the Parliament and the many-windowed, many towered building where they meet, sitting on the bluffs overlooking the river, the central tower’s patina dancing against the sky under a red and white maple leaf flapping in the breeze.

And in Ottawa they have a chateau in the center of town. It overlooks the Parliament building and the locks that raise and drop boats between the river and the canal. Today it’s a hotel where fancy people in fancy clothes congregate for fancy meetings.

And in Ottawa they have universities. And neighborhoods where real people live and work and walk on the streets and take the buses. And restaurants along the sidewalks where you might stop for pizza or sandwiches or shawarma or kabobs. And embassies where the elite really do meet to eat. And government office buildings. And bridges across the river to Quebec.

They have so many other things in Ottawa. Some which we know. Most of which we haven’t yet seen. But I want to tell you about one place where we always come and go.

In Ottawa they have an airport. You disembark from your plane and in our case, since we always seem to arrive on a regional jet, you walk up a gangway and thru twisting passageways and along silent halls and up and down long ramps until you come to the place where you find your bags. Like any airport in any city, they have this place where your luggage (usually) shows up and you grab it off the moving pieces of shiny metal.

You grab your bags, pull out the handles, walk thru a doorway where they check your papers again, walk down another hall and wait in a line to talk to the border service agents who look at your papers and make smalltalk with you about where you come from and where you are going and how often you come and what your plans might be. Those kinds of things. I am sure you know about these kinds of places in any kind of airport, and that isn’t what I wanted to tell you about.

What I wanted to tell you about is one more thing that they have in Ottawa, something you see after the border service agents let you pass.

There beyond the door. There in Canada proper. In Ottawa. There they have a vast waiting room. And in our experience, this waiting room is usually mostly empty. You walk thru that last pair of doors, your suitcases in tow, and there in the seats nearest to the door is a greeting party. Two people sitting quietly and patiently, eyes riveted on the doors waiting for you to emerge. And when you come thru the doors, they stand up smiling and give you a warm hello. They reach out to greet you. And hug you. And ask you how the flight was. And they smile some more. And they point the way to the car.

They have this kind of greeting party in Ottawa for you every time you arrive. We know. We have been there in summer and winter and spring, and they have been there and greeted us in this way every single time.

Welcome to Ottawa.

Race Weekend 10K

Sunday, 08 Jun 2014, 09:47 UTC

1. Getting There

It was Race Weekend in Ottawa. The 40th.

On Saturday, a 2k race and a 5k race and a 10K, too. On Sunday, a half-marathon and the full. We had come for the Lowertown Brewery 10K. Dad and Khadija had dropped us off at our hotel, and at the appointed hour (in the evening!) we had taken the OCTranspo number 9 bus to Rideau Centre, walked thru the mall and crossed over the canal to the starting line.

“We ice skated here,” we told each other as we crossed the bridge. “It was really cold the last time we stood here!”

Il y avait beaucoup d monde là. From all over that part of Canada they had come: runners, friends of runners, families. And everyone was standing around waiting for the start. We all had smiles on our faces. The weather was wonderful: spectacular for a Texan, maybe a bit warm for the Canadians among us.

We took our place in the green corral way back from the front of the crowd. From there, a crowd of runners shoulder-to-shoulder rocked back and forth, waited for the start with the late afternoon sun in our eyes.

2. The Start

We cheered as the yellow corral (Or was it orange or blue? Whatever, it wasn’t green.) of fast runners started. Pulsing music played on the speakers, and we could see the first group go. And then we stood two minutes until the next corral was sent off to another blast of pulsing music. And then another and another as our green corral gradually moved downhill toward the starting line.

The pulsing music at the starting line was loud. The crowd cheered. The announcers shouted words of encouragement in French and English as we passed by. We turned on Elgin and ran past the pubs toward The Queensway, toward the canal. Crowds of friends and family and people cheered.

We ran together for a while, the fair and industrious Trudy and I. Then we got briefly separated. Trudy would smile and wave a blinking wave when I glanced back. And then I pointed ahead and she nodded. I looked down, and we separated.

3. The Tulips

“Did you see the tulips?” people asked afterwards. It was a week after the Tulip Festival, and it’s been such a weird, cold spring there that many of the flowers were still blooming when we got there.

“Did you see the tulips?” 

“Yes!” Trudy exclaimed. “They were so beautiful!”

I didn’t really notice of the tulips.

Sure I’m sure I saw them as I ran along the canal noticing the water and the crowds and the runners. But no, I confess I didn’t notice the flowers that day. I run with my eyes mostly down: slogging, back-of-the-pack runner doing the best I can. Note to self: need to stop (well, look up at least) and see the tulips (well, notice at least).

4. Along the Way

Where the tulips were, where I should have noticed them, I was looking instead across to the other side of the canal. We were running south, and there on the other side were other runners running north.

They were well past half-way. The elites first, running at a blistering pace. Then a few others. Then more. And then a crowd as deep as the slower crowd on our side of the canal. With the bright westering sun in their eyes, they were running to the finish line.

We came to the 5K mark. It came so fast. It had been so easy. I felt so good. But it wasn’t our 5K mark. It was the marathon 5K mark. A big banner on the side of the route with 5K blazoned on it. 5K it announced. For tomorrows runners.

Someone in the crowd said, “We’re at 5K already?”

“Marathon 5K,” I mumbled. I don’t think anyone heard me. They all knew. We all knew. This wasn’t the halfway point. We all felt too good. Dang sign, how could they?

And now halfway in earnest: we looped around and onto a bridge, over the canal, around again on the other side and back along the canal with that wonderful sun now in our faces. Here more than three miles into the race, there were still crowds standing along the route clapping and cheering and ringing cowbells and flapping plastic clappers 8K and shouting encouraging words.

“You look great!”

“Past halfway!”

“Keep it up!”

5. The Finish

2K to go. I wasn’t running fast, but the course was flat, and the crowd was fun to run thru. And although the finish line seemed to take forever after my watch announced 6 miles and I had picked up my pace at the end overoptimistically, the finish line did appear as we ran up a slight grade and turned a slight corner.

The crowd was deep to the right and left. Families and friends of all those thousands of runners cheering and clapping and ringing and straining to see the runners they came to see cross the finish line.

And so I crossed the finish line, but my time was slow. I won’t even tell you, although you can find it for yourself if you look.

There were bagels. And bananas. A girl was scrambling to unpack a box of granola bars, and I took one from her and reached for another.

“One per person,” a supervisory sounding person chastised me.  ”We want to have enough for everyone, eh?” I pulled my reaching hand back, ashamed.

6. The Best We’ve Ever Had

I milled with the crowd of sweaty, happy runners up the hill, looking for the red flag where Trudy and I had agreed to meet. I saw it in the distance and turned in that direction. There was a tap on my shoulder. I looked back. It was the fair and industrious Trudy who finished three minutes behind me. She had a smile on her face. Her blue eyes glistened in the sun. We shouldn’t have split up. She would have made me see look up, notice the blooming tulips. 

We found a place among the runners in the crowd in the grass in front of blossoming tulips with music playing and our medals hanging from our necks. And after a while, we reclaimed our checked gear and changed into dry clothes and wandered toward downtown and watched the sun set in the west, across the river, with the silhouetted spired of Chateau Laurier beside it.

And then we found a scottish pub in Byward Market and ate pub grub, the best we’ve ever had.

Leaving Quebec for Ontario

Sunday, 08 Jun 2014, 00:21 UTC

We left Quebec City with storm clouds gathering. Indeed, as we drove away, leaving behind us the Citadel and Chateau Frontenac and the cobblestone streets of Upper Town and Lower Town we thought we might stop and walk around a bit in the Plains of Abraham. But in those few minutes the weather turned, and the skies darkened, and rain began to fall. So we marveled at the park at the plains thru rain drop speckled windows, leaving a closer examination for another time, perhaps. There always seems to be a need for another time.

The clouds chased us as we drove west. Highway 40 through the green of a Canada spring. Good weather ahead of us, rain behind. And when we stopped for lunch it seemed as if we were no further from the clouds then than we were when we drove thru Porte St. Louis.

We drove thru farms spread out over rolling hills. We drove thru forests. Ducks flew over us. And black Ravens fled the onslaught of smaller parents fearlessly defending their nests.

Poplar trees stood in the woods, their gray-silver boles climbing to the sky, their quaking leaves shimmering in the forest canopies. And we finally out ran the storm.