From Running Journal, March, 2010.
The ides of March had come again. The day I remember was a Wednesday. Overnight a front had moved through. I went outside that morning, as I usually do.
The front’s passing had left the air cold, the sky blue and not a cloud in sight. It was the kind of morning where, if you ever liked the outside, you’d want to be out.
I filled my tall water bottle, the one that holds enough for 12 miles, and headed north into a gentle wind, cold against my skin. The route meanders northwest six miles through countryside, makes a turnaround and snakes back along blacktops named for churches—Liberty Church, Shipley Church—familiar old roads that suit this morning’s run.
It was still winter that March, although signs of spring were beginning to show. Yellow buttercups splashed an uneven border along a lawn’s edge; crocuses thrust upward beneath a naked tree; a pastel blush tinged a maple’s stark outline. The northern sky was blue as infinity, a color belonging to October, although it was March.
Four miles into the run a sharp crest offered a long view. To the right a fescue field cradled a small lake near the road, an occasional stopover place for waterfowl on their long journeys north or south. On the left I saw scattered trees, a farm pond, a pasture; further south stood a wide stretch of gray woods. The road curved westward before me.
Ahead of me I saw something dark lying in the road near the lake. It was too far away to tell what it was. Maybe a skunk killed by a car—I had seen suchlike. But drawing closer, I could see feathers—a crow maybe.
But it was bigger than that, and, as I passed, I realized it was a duck. It lay in my lane only a few feet from the lake, likely hit by a car as someone rushed to work—destroyed by a device nature warned no duck about.
As I ran by, I glanced down briefly and kept on going.
It was just then that a white-winged duck passed low overhead, flying fast and straight, as in a missing-plane fly-over, honoring its fallen mate lying there in the road. Above me, his bright wings—for it was male—flashed in the harsh light, reminding me of a common merganser. It was the time of year when ducks migrate north, where they mate, build nests and raise their young. But this duck continued hard toward the south, showing not the slightest waver of direction or purpose, holding a precise course.
I watched him cross the pasture in a fury of speed you’d think he couldn’t continue, staying level and straight. He passed the far end, where the woods start, and rushed on, skimming treetops as if ignoring in a blind rage their upstretched limbs.
Who can say how a duck might think? Perhaps in dim duck-thought he recalled the stopover they last made on the way north and was vainly returning to where he thought his mate might once again be found. Maybe he was seeking a previous time, a previous place—one he can never find—a place in memory that remains how it was before. But who can say how a duck might think?
His image grew small, receding in the pale distant. We each traveled our own way, south for him, west for me.
But it looked like he must have had a change of heart. Before he vanished over the woods altogether he began to turn, swinging around to the left. He reversed direction, and headed back across the pasture in perfect retrograde to his previous course, aiming for another pass over the one that lay in the road. I turned to watch as he crossed.
This time he was climbing hard, setting a course north, into an infinite blue sky—a sky that belonged to October, although it was March.