By Patrick Dean
It’s the tail-end of summer, and I’m on the final rise of my standard morning trail-run loop, not far from my parked car. It’s where energy sometimes flags a little, where legs feel a little tired. In search of inspiration, I find myself imagining something that connects me to my childhood: I turn huge clumps of native flora into my cheering section.
Rudbeckia triloba, also known as Black-Eyed Susan, is a bright-yellow wildflower with a black cone in the center. Native to the South, it prefers sunshine — which is why it explodes so profusely along the gravel double-track right where the utility clearing crosses it, opening the woods to the sky.
If you’ve ever run a race, then you’ve felt the exhilaration, the burst of energy and adrenaline, that comes from seeing the finish line ahead of you. You might be out of gas, barely stumbling along, but somehow that sight gives you unexpected juice. And if there are people there, and even an announcer on a microphone, that feeling is even greater. “Here he comes, number 840, Patrick Dean!” From somewhere unknown, strength you didn’t know you had buoys you, freshens the heart and lungs, propels you toward that place, those sounds.
When I was nine or so, the only child still living at home, I invented a backyard game using the small rubber souvenir footballs that the local college’s cheerleaders flung into the stands on Saturday afternoons. The bushes along either long side of the grass lawn became my receivers. If the football clung to the branches, it was a completion. My “team” marched up and down my backyard “field” in the Mississippi fall afternoons.
And like a lot of kids in a lot of driveways, I played that time-honored game while shooting basketball by myself: “Time is running down, score tied — he dribbles once, releases at the buzzer — YES!”
It seems that as adults we ignore the power of this kind of imaginative invention. We ignore this tool for adding richness and depth to our lives. If anything, maybe we spend too much time imagining the wrong things: all the negative, scary, threatening possibilites — what a friend of mine calls ‘awfulizing.’
So when I transformed the thriving late-summer rudbeckia into spectators urging me on, it did more than just give me a jolt of energy, just what I needed to power up the rise and on to the end of my run.
It was also a reminder of what I knew as a kid, but perhaps had forgotten, or at least left behind. With a random, snap choice, I had tapped into that creative sense that turns a backyard into a football field, or a driveway into a packed gym with the game on the line. That simple act of imagination taught me all over again how much power we have to shape our worlds, our days, with our minds.
I reach the car and stop my watch, smiling a little sheepishly at the game I’ve just played. Then I drive home, bringing perhaps a little of nine-year-old me back to my house, to my grownup life.