Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fastness


In chapter 33 of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (which, if you have not read, do do do!), a pedophile scare empties the streets such that ”[i]t was as if the Pied Piper had led all the children off to some mountain fastness.” I read this chapter today with a slightly kooky and very cool little kid, and we made note of that last word. I like it a lot. The OED’s first definition, the one Betty Smith is using, is

noun
1 a secure place well protected by natural features: a remote Himalayan mountain fastness

Driving home, I decided not to cross the 405 (it was around 6:30pm – a lot of traffic) to do speed training at a UCLA track, but instead to head up into the Santa Monica mountains for an out-and-back on the Westridge fire road, an old standby. As I pulled into the lot at the trailhead, checking the time until sunset (plenty), another car slid in and parked alongside mine. A really attractive woman came out: very bright, open face and a compact, athletic body.

She took off down the trail ahead of me – I was futzing with headphones and Garmins – but I caught up to her about 1/3 of the way through, and we spent the whole run out trading the lead. We didn’t really acknowledge each other; if she was thinking what I was thinking, she may have been conscious of wanting to run her run and let me run mine. On uphills I’d generally overtake her, and on downhills I’d see her long shadow at my feet and then a moment later her tight steps would bring her alongside and then ahead of me. Then we’d hit another hill and I’d pull ahead again.

The thing was, this lady was very fast. So if I wanted to pull ahead of her on the next hill – which I did, for all of the reasons you are probably imagining – I couldn’t let her get out too far in front on the downhill. And pulling ahead of her on the ups was harder each time, although there my much longer legs (I had like ten inches on this amazing person) were a big help. The trail out ends with a stretch uphill and I put her pretty well behind me, thirty of forty seconds. I crested the top, having shaved about ten seconds off my standard splits for that part of the run – thanks to her.

I loitered, walking it off on the way to the water fountain. She came up behind, still running, and didn’t stop running as she cruised past – turned to me, definitely, and either smiled or winced into the setting sun in my direction – chugged to the water fountain thirty feet ahead, swept in for four seconds of drinking, then turned heel and came back, past me, and back down the mountain, gone. I smiled at her on the way back, but at that point it was just her and the trail.

I continued my humphing walk to the fountain, pleased about my time and the mountains and the sunset, grateful to the lady, and feeling a little happy-silly about whatever ideas I’d had about conversations resulting from the two of us cresting the mountain together. She’d be quarter-way to her car by the time I even started my way back.

I leaned down over the water fountain and soaked my hair and face, drank as much water as I comfortably could with the run down ahead of me. As I stood up I noticed the smudged word on my hand; when I want to remember a word, maybe to use it soon, I often write it on my hand on the same place at the bottom of my thumb.

Fastness.

I love living in Los Angeles, very much.
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