By Brian Grissom
It’s something that as a midwestern trail runner…we receive 4 times a year. Common trails put on different clothes every 3 months or so. Just when you get tired of the current scenery…things start to change again and change is happening now.
Just a few months ago, the trails in Indiana were a vibrant green. Green. The color of life. Movement. Forward motion. Then, as it changes to autumn, green turns into the color of fire itself. Yellow. Orange. Red. And as if the forest itself burned too hot, we are left with the ashes of autumn. Winter. Gray skies and the color brown is everywhere.
Winter in Indiana can be far longer than 3 months and that’s an awfully long time to wish for spring to come. I was on a run a few days ago on trails I have run on now for almost 6 years straight and realized something about winter running. I see things in winter that I can’t in the spring, summer and fall. It’s the season where the forest and trees show their true self. Leaves are beautiful, but they hide things. It was like I was seeing the forest for the first time. Now that I could see through all of it, I realized that there was a world hidden all year that now is on display. Nests, small streams, downed trees, ridges and even the remnants of a foundation were clear as day. And just like the scenery in spring, summer and fall, this new palette was beautiful.
Speaking of palette. That is something else I’m trying to reframe. Having lived in Indiana my whole life, I’m admittedly envious (at times) of those on the coasts or who have the Rockies as their backyard. Regardless of season, there are seemingly epic landscapes to explore. When we get snow it is beautiful, but we haven’t had snow in a few years and the pervasive color of winter in Indiana…is brown. Gray skies and brown forests. “Beautiful” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you see a forest devoid of leaves and color. But isn’t beauty everywhere?
So I started thinking about the color brown and what it means in the context of nature and seasons and life. Brown represents earth. Dirt and dust. Soil and silt. The place where a great exchange happens. Death is received and life is given. All year, leaves are on display, flowers bloom, thickets of clover and mayapple plants cover the forest floor. But as the cold sets in, each and every leaf finds a place in the dirt and becomes something far bigger than it was. It’s contribution allows new life to germinate and form. Brown is the color of life in limbo. Life in the waiting.
So for all you midwestern runners who know exactly what I’m talking about, take heart. What we see every time we go out for a trail run is nothing short of a miracle. Yes it might be nothing but a sea of browns and grays, but without that, we couldn’t enjoy the panoply of colors we take in all year. And for those who haven’t experienced an Indiana trail in the winter…you should. You might see a single color, but that color contains life and death and past and present and future. It is the firmament that a sea of colors will once again bloom from. It’s life in waiting and it’s incredibly beautiful.