On Being Wild

I miss running barefoot — there was something about running with the spring in your step, pushing gingerly against the grass, feeling the strength of the stride move through your legs and through your toes that made you feel powerful, or free, or wild. When I first started early on, I always felt sore and achy at the bottom of my foot, like pinpricks lived there. We’d joke that running the lake barefoot was safe—so long as you didn’t step on the needles. A few times I felt a sharp pain and swore I did step on one… only to find out that I was fine. But as the calluses built, your stride adjusted and you would feel safer, and the stones wouldn’t cut you anymore and you’d run a little faster, leaning into the slicing chill, ignoring the numbness of running on wet grass on the north end of the lake and run home in darkness against the dotted glow of Lake Merritt’s necklace.

I’ve had the thought where I wished I could have been more wild when I was younger. Maybe it’d be kind of cool to grow up and live in some remote town in the forest. I’d like to run freely in the dirt and swim in a few lakes. I would have liked to learn how to wrestle and gotten in fights and build forts and bruise a few more knees and kiss a few more girls. I’d like to have known the strength in my back and courage in my heart.  I remember always being fascinated with the protagonist in My Side of the Mountain — the idea of this boy living in the woods fending for himself, scavenging berries and tanning leather and hunting for venison (and tending to his own pet falcon — now that was frickin cool).

A memory circa 1998: my family is skiing at Yosemite and I’m tired. I ask my Dad if I can go back by myself — the shuttle bus will be an hour ride down to the Valley floor. I must have been twelve, max. It is snowing heavily. He hands me the keys tells me to go ahead, and I make that ride back down myself. That day I feel like I’ve crossed a threshold.

These days there are places in my life where I can say — I’m going to be wild. I’m going to fight for this, or I’m going to figure this out. I’m going to do this because as a grown man, I still want to run, and explore, and give it a good try.

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