A ride along the American River

Among my many passions in life-activities that I spend my free time doing and, frankly, wish I could make more time for, is cycling.  Unlike the road bike rider that truly owns the classification of “cyclist”, I ride a mountain bike because, well… I like to play in the dirt.  I always have.  While I do love to leap off of the paved trail and tear down a fire trail or horse track on occasion, as I documented in an earlier blog post in which I posted a video of me tearing down a trail in Auburn (my GoPro camera’s maiden voyage) most of my bike riding time is spent on paved bike trails, much of it along the scenic Sacramento and American river trails.

Come along as I take a leisurely ride along the American River Trail at dusk via historic Old Town Sacramento, across SF Golden Gate replica which connects the American River trail to Sacramento State University, then beneath the up lit Tower Bridge, culminating in a short ride down K Street at night.

Stay tuned, loyal followers.   There will be more of these to come, perhaps with music and/or commentary next time.

J. Johnston

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Running, GPS, and Honesty

Lies, lies I tell you! My GPS running app is telling lies!  Forgive me for posting another running related blog entry, but it seems that that is all I am filling my spare time with of late (that and writing these posts) and my experiences the past few times out have proven worthy of discussion. Or perhaps I am just venting… No matter. I’m maintaining a healthy balance of regular physical activity and sitting on my duff writing, so it’s all good, right?

Ok, now I am all for giving credit where credit is due, and when my GPS app decided to spoon feed me back some of the precious minutes and miles that it systematically robbed me of over the past two years, it was tempting to just say, OK, sweet; I’ll claim that as my own. I mean, who’s going to know, right? Well, that’s just not how I roll for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I am an honest person and I don’t claim that which is not mine. It’s like if someone visited my photography web site (jeffreyjohnstonphotography.com), and decided, hey… that picture’s purdy. I think I’ll save it to my computer and use it as my new wallpaper and I’ll tell people that I took it. No… that is NOT OK.

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OK, OK. I’m stepping down from my soap box now, but the point that I am trying to make here is that it is not OK to claim that which is not yours, even if it is something as rudimentarily trivial as un-earned mileage, time, and corresponding pace while running. Yes, who’s going to know? Me, that’s who, and we all know the saying “oh what a tangled web we weave, when once we practice to deceive.” The bottom line is, who are we fooling most? Ourselves. So I keep it honest. Momma told me this was best.

That is not to stay that I haven’t over my lifetime lost my way, trekked a few miles down the road to the dark side, we all have at some point in our lives. In fact, one time in particular still resonates with me because it caused me so much shame, yet I never took corrective action to see to it that the truth be known. When I was in pre-school. I know, you’re probably saying: “Dude, really? Preschool?” Yes. We lived in Chico California and my father was attending college. I was in preschool and there was an art project assigned to us in which we each were to draw a picture of a Christmas Tree, decorated with bulbs, lights and whatever else we thought a Christmas tree should look like in pre-freedom of religious expression sensitivity 1968. At the age of four, my artistic abilities were rather limited and were obviously far inferior to that of the girl to my immediate right of me at the table we were working on. So, in effort to secure the highest accolades and win over my teacher, I swapped out my crummy tree with my neighbors when she got up to get more paste to eat. She was always eating paste… loved the stuff, and her addiction to the tasty mixture of flour and water was clearly to my benefit on that particular day. An acquired taste, this paste; one which I could never quite wrap my young mind around.

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So, anyway, I claimed my neighbor’s artwork as my own, slapped my name on the back in a scarcely legible four-year-olds crayon scrawl, and turned it in. How this fraudulent crime was not discovered is beyond me, perhaps the rightful owner was so stoned on paste that she just didn’t notice that her once Rembrandt caliber work of art had vanished and was replaced with my barely recognizable work of crap.

That work of art, immorally attained as it was, still adorns my late grandmothers scrap book. Shameful, I know. I did confess to this act of blatant thievery and dishonesty to my mother thirty or forty years later, though. At least I think I did. Confession or not, it was wrong. I knew it then, but just didn’t have the courage to do anything about it at the time. Whew…I feel so much better now that that is off my chest. Sorry, Grandma. I never came clean with that while you were here.

Bridge tower_frame1

Sure, I think that many of us have embellished on the truth a bit in order to tilt the scales of achievement in our favor for one reason or another. However, for me, the days of dishonesty, no matter how seemingly insignificant are over. Oh yeah… if anyone looks closely enough at the splits on this particular run (pictured below) it will become quite evident that at one point around mile #2 my trajectory magically leapt from 13th & N to 9th & E in the matter of seconds, and then deposited me briefly at 11th & J before magically circumventing about a half mile of my route and continuing on my original course. One will also notice that my pace for mile #2 was a lightning-fast 1:13 minute mile. What! That’s just crazy! I have never run that fast, even on a good day with plenty of Starbucks and C4 coursing through my veins, this middle aged novice runner is just not that fast, nor do I aspire to be. For if I were, I fear that I would surely be found on the pages of a comic book, hanging among the ranks of Flash, or recruited by local law enforcement to chase down bad guys, or perhaps become the next celebrity star of the Olympic track team earning well deserved gold for our country. Ahh, yes. I can see it now. Fame, fortune, celebrity status. Uh… No. Alas I am just some old guy trying not to die prematurely because he sat in front of the TV watching re-runs of shows that he already saw thirty years earlier instead of getting outside moving around a little each day.

9-23 7.01 mile error map

As I post these little running route screenshots, I have to believe that some of my keen-eyed blog followers, whether skeptical of my claims or honestly interested in my fitness aspirations, are clicking on the actual route on MapMyRun.com and examining my splits for both accuracy and my correlating scrupulousness. Yeah, that’s the other reason for the honesty… it’s traceable, and no one wants to earn the objectionable reputation of reporting falsehoods as it pertains to performance in fitness achievements or anything else, for that matter. With that said, GPS is not a perfect science, as is evident with the errors which are the basis of this particular post, but there are limits to that which is deemed a feasible margin for error, the apparent teleportation over several city blocks and logging an implausible 1:13 minute mile pace during an evening run, notwithstanding.

I embarked upon this run in full faith that my consistency-lacking GPS running app, coupled with my circa 2005 smart phone, its actual intelligence rightfully disputable, would, at least start at the same time that I started running and at least provide me with a relatively accurate reporting of distance, time and pace. I don’t know what happened. Alien interference, perhaps? Solar flare? Who really knows for sure? I know what distance I ran that night, as it is a route I have run before and shaving about 1.5 miles off of my distance, and adding a couple of minutes to my pace, is a relatively fair representation of my actual performance on this night fueled by mystery and intrigue… and apparently, my newly-acquired supernatural powers.

May your momentum be perpetual, and your integrity held high, my friends!

Polyester: its not for running anymore

Being that I try to get out and put in work three days per week (or nights, as it were) I tend to get bored with a route after navigating the monotony for three or four consecutive runs, so I have several that I use, each out-and-back or loop with a varying mileage associated to it.

Tonight, I headed out in a direction that I had before, but instead of heading left across the bridge into Discovery Park and doing an out-and-back course, I stayed on the south side of the American River and headed east. I knew that the new development near North 7th Street was in the works—some of it actually completed, and by the looks of things, parts of the new residential projects were already occupied. I had been down this way before, on my bike, and I knew that North 7th street culminated at a turn-about a few yards away from the bike trail. With that in mind, I decided to see how long of a loop it would be if I ran along the river to there, and back home by way of 7th Street. It turned out to be exactly 5 miles. Nice, huh? Another viable loop of relative effort to add to my arsenal of distances, and just what I needed on this particular day to break the monotony.

The decision to run this particular route was made because I was embarking on my evening run a little early, leaving at a time that would ensure plenty of daylight for the duration of the run, well into the time that I arrived back home. The stretch of North 7th between the river and, say… Capitol Mall is, well… not the safest environment, and I surely would not want to be out there after dark. That stretch can be a bit spooky at night. With that said, I will make a point of only running this new loop while there is plenty of light to guide me.

This route has a little bit of everything: The river Promenade near Tower Bridge, the history of historic Old Town Sacramento, the majestic confluence of the Sacramento and American river at Discovery Park, the new development near the Rail Yards, providing both a glimpse into Sacramento’s history with the historic old brick buildings that are still standing in the rail yards, as well as the new residential developments that have been constructed there. A little bit of everything to stimulate the mind with a plethora of visual stimuli.

5 mile loop though old sac

One thing that did bother me while during this run, though, and it became noticeable quite early. I was hot. The weather on this day was a rather mild 80 degrees, and it wasn’t the regular hot that plagues me early, when I just get started. What was the cause of my discomfort, you ask. Polyester. Yes, you heard me. Polyester. I own several sets of running clothes—shorts with matching shirts, made from differing breathable materials, and apparently, unbeknownst to me when I bought them a couple of years ago, some of them ( many of the shirts anyway) are made of 100% polyester. What! What genius decided that polyester would be a good fabric to make running gear out of? What was at the nucleus  bright idea was that? Ok, perhaps it is more breathable, and less likely to become completely saturated within a mile into a run than say, cotton, but really? I either did not know any better, or was so focused on color coordinating my shorts to my shirt, that I didn’t notice what some of these shirts were constructed of, or, which is more like it, I just didn’t care. Whatever the root of my lapse in judgment, I now resolutely will not wear polyester when I run. Never again. I have broken up three color coordinated sets of running outfits and have thrown the piece constructed of the offending material in the trash.  I must not suffer the agony of not being color coordinated while putting my mind and body through the agony of running for an hour or so three times a week.

I volunteered at the mile 25 water and snack station for the California International Marathon one year, passing out water, Gatorade, and Twizzler red licorice. This particular year there was a torrential rain storm in Folsom, CA where the race began. Most of these poor souls, wrapped up in plastic trash bags, with plastic sheets duct taped to them here and there, were a wreck by the time they reached us. Some were limping, others were hunched over to one side, a grimace of sheer agony frozen on their face as they enthusiastically (I am theorizing at the enthusiasm as, evidence of this was absent from the faces of most) grabbed a water and a Twizzer as they crept by. We cheered them on with our constant mantra of “keep going. Just one more mile to go, you can do it!”

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Ok, back on the subject of polyester, I noticed that one man on the approach to our last mile water station, had red streaks running down his shirt, emanating from where his nipples should be and running down to his waist. Then I saw another, and another. The friction of their polyester or polyester blend running shirts had worn the top layer of skin off of each nipple, and they were freekin bleeding! Yes, bleeding!

I had never seen anything like it. I turned to my friend and said “Hey, is that guy bleeding?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Probably wearing polyester.  He should have worn nipple guards.” Nipple guards? Is there such a thing? Wow… who knew. Well, a lot of people, apparently, because a product with this unambiguous name is hanging on a retail hook at the cash register at fleet feet. I own some myself now, too. I learned of their value when, while training for the Shamrock’n Half Marathon a couple of years ago, I was wearing one of my now disposed of polyester running shirts during an 11 mile training run, and, although they did not bleed, they sure were sore by the end of the day.

I guess in all fairness, the moisture wicking material that the remaining of my running shirts are made of would probably have a similar effect on that particular part of the male anatomy, but it has been my experience, that the polyester, is like a 40 grit sandpaper, and the newer, lighter and more breathable tech fabric is like a fine 120 grit. Without protection, the tech fabric will likely do the same thing on a long run like a full marathon such as the CIM, but I have never experienced discomfort with them, only with the polyester. Yes, this is a male dominated phenomenon, for obvious reasons… women are, or at least should be, protected by a sports bra, leaving the need for this type of protective product strictly marketed to men.

Runners, do what you want. I encourage anyone reading my words whether in this blog post or anywhere else, to assess their own situation carefully, and make their own decisions based on what is best for them.  For this runner, polyester is out. I have alleviated my closet of any running clothes—shorts or shirts—made of polyester. For me, this particular fabric is hot, its rough and it just has no place in my closet.

Until next time, keep the forward momentum, people.

J. Johnston

The Running Life

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Funny thing, this running life. Addictive in nature, yet the desire to get out there and put in work is fleeting if not outright evasive at times… much of the time. Even those who have been at it for years, have confided in me that deep down, they really don’t want to do it. But the more that they do get out there and put in mileage, the more they are compelled to do it… they NEED to do it.  For the running devotee, this regimental practice of dressing out, lacing up the exorbitantly priced shoes with their color coordinated laces and running, whether three times per week, five times week, or whatever frequency is psychologically gratifying, usually involves getting up really early in the morning, eating a small portion of something that you would not ordinarily consume for breakfast—high carbs, grains, rocks and sticks, what have you—at an hour far earlier than the body is accustomed, or for some, race day means eating nothing at all.  Foregoing ones regular intake of coffee and its associated diuretic properties is also advisable—a learned practice, one that is tussled with tooth-and-nail by newbies, but one every runner adopts eventually if they value their beloved running time and its accompanying, and equally cherished pace.

Parkway Half 600x600

I’ve only been at this running thing for two and a half years. In fact, this month it will be exactly two and a half years since I ran my first race; a 5K dubbed “No Excuses,” held in Sacramento.  It was a blast!  The camaraderie, the people cheering on the sidelines, the free food at the end of the race, the announcer calling your name as you crossed the finish line; official race time posted on-line… what a rush!  I was officially hooked on this new and exciting approach to staying healthy and active, and on my way to becoming part of a huge community of like-minded people of all ages and from all walks of life.

Last Sunday, I ran my third half marathon.  It was the San Francisco Giants race. The course left from in front of AT&T Park, ran down the Embarcadero and beneath the San Francisco Bay Bridge to the Presidio before turning around and returning and finishing inside of AT&T Park to the roar of spectators (family and friends of other runners… none of them mine, unfortunately).  Rounding the corner and heading to the finish line inside the park was quite an experience.  I wore my GoPro Camera during the race, but unbeknownst to me, the battery died an hour into the race, so I didn’t get footage of the finish, or the last eight miles, for that matter.

Last night I went for a run on the Sacramento River—an eight mile out and back from the River Promenade near Tower Bridge to the Weston Hotel, the one with Scott’s Seafood imbedded in its left hip (or its right, depending on whether you’re facing the river or I-5).  This out and pack route of mine is on a relatively flat paved bike path with only one hill as the trail dips into the boat launch area of Miller Park before climbing back up onto the levy parallel to the railroad tracks and I-5 just beyond a barrier of evergreen trees.  I have run this route before—one of several out and backs and loops that I run with varying mileage and degrees of difficulty associated to them—and I typically do my running during the late afternoon or dusk.

I don’t mind running in hot weather.  It’s not the heat that gets to me, it’s the slathering on of sunblock before a run, just to sweat if off and have it run into my eyes while running… that I’m not to thrilled about.  I also find fewer people on the trails later in the day and fewer cars on the road when my running loop takes me occasionally onto residential streets, or traffic metered intersections.

About two miles into this run, I encountered a small cloud of insects that just happened to be hovering at head level directly in my path. I should mention that during one of my early running training courses that I had taken in preparation of my new running life, we were taught, contrary to previously learned behavior, to breathe through our mouths, and not through our nose.  As my breathing had not quite leveled out yet, I ran directly into this cloud of insects, or bugnado, as I have christened this phenomenon, mouth open and promptly sucked in a mouth full of the tiny black bugs.  With my mouth rapidly filling with natures crunchy protein supplement, I snapped my eyes closed and frantically blinked the tiny black monsters out of my vision and kept running… I was on a mission. I was not going to let being force-fed a few thousand bugs stop me from reaching my mileage and pace goals of my first post-half marathon run.  No sir.

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No sooner did my vision clear and I thought I had the last of the tiny creatures spat from my now hacking throat, I ran into another one of these bugnado’s… then another.  My process of eliminating these heinous flying monsters from my system was repeated two more times before I was able to regain my composure and take a breath of fresh air.  Thankfully, the remainder of my run was relatively bug free.

I continued my run, mindful of my GPS running apps declaration of my time and pace yammering from my cell phone each half mile to ensure that I was maintaining an active pursuit of my goals for the evening.  Passing a few meandering walkers near the Westin Hotel who decided to stop and take a selfie right in front of me, I approached the turn-around point.  They will likely be none too pleased to find that I had inadvertently photo-bombed their shot as I approached from the rear just before passing them on the left.  My turnaround point came at mile number four just beyond the Weston Hotel adjacent two large fire pits with lounge chairs encircling them with a wonderful view of the river.  I made my turn, and headed back from whence I came, passing the fire pits and the two women still fussing with their now increasing number of selfies, which, from the direction that they were taking them, had nothing in the background but a parking lot full of varying eras of automobiles and the occasional maintenance worker cruising by in his golf cart, smoking a filterless Pall Mall cigarette while attempting to conduct an intelligible conversation on his walkie-talkie between uncontrollable phlegm-rattling coughing spells.

The back-side of any out and back run invariably carries with it a level of fear and discomfort for me.  The fear is that I will abandon my goals altogether and walk.  The discomfort comes with I invariably make the conscious decision to stay the course and keep running, only to find that in doing so the pain in whichever muscle group is hindering me the most that week has been amplified ten fold with the psychological awareness that I am still only half way into my run, and that the hard part of this passionate endeavor is just beginning.  This usually passes, as by this time my breathing has leveled out, hitting the proverbial wall, as it is termed in the running community and its time to suck it up and cruise.

7 mile run map

On my return trip as I made my way back toward downtown Sacramento, the sun had all but set, leaving an orange hue of reflective light on the river to my left, and with the diminishing light, came a different populous of travelers on the bike trail on which I was running.  Typically, if I know that I will be out past dark during a run, I will wear a head lamp to light my way and to also let others know that I am there so that and can avoid running head on into me on the trail, or to enable cars to see me when I find the need to cross a residential street after I drop off the levy back into the neighborhood.  This was not one of those times.  I left my head lamp at home and had to rely on my store-bought vision (Lasik circa 2009) and the sporadic courtesy of oncoming runners and cyclists to either have a headlight of their own turned on or at least make an effort to move over once I enter their field of view.  I did most of the moving over, though, and I was grateful that I did not encounter any snakes on the trail as I had on previous runs along that same stretch of the river trail.

Intermingled with this new post-sunset populous of river trail walkers, runners and cyclists, at times can be found those who use the cover of darkness and relative isolation of this area to participate in activities that they would not ordinarily bring into the light… not in public, anyway.  About five miles into this run, as I approached the gap in the fence that accesses the Sutterville Road exit off of I-5; I spied far up in the distance, a walker in front of me. Ordinarily, I would not have been aware of this walker so far ahead of me, especially as dark as it was, had it not been for the aroma that was trailing several yards behind him, a pungent wake within which I was hopelessly trapped with no real means of escape.  This individual, after running behind him for several minutes I learned was a little paunch of a man with a thick black mustache and a ball cap mashed so far down upon his fat head that it was a wonder he had any ears at all.  He was strolling down the pathway practicing his no doubt newly attained card-carrying California—yet still against federal law—right, puffing away on some extraordinarily pungent and apparently high quality marijuana.  At first, I thought that someone had encountered and inadvertently startled a skunk on the trail, which in some parts, especially Miller Park, there are dozens.  But as I advanced on this pudgy little pot-head it became clear that it was not a skunk, but some quality pot, the smoke from which had trailed behind him in a translucent blue veil for several yards.

Back to Civilization

This development was of no help to my diminishing energy level as I approached the last quarter of my run. I must have taken in enough of his toxic haze that for a moment I briefly envisioned this new chemical element that had involuntarily been introduced into my drug-free system would somehow give me the boost that I needed for the last part of my run. You know, like when you hit the nitrous button in one of those computer racing games, sending you blasting along the raceway, barely maintaining control as you negotiate the next turn, knowing full well that you’ll never make it and you are destined to hit the wall, but you don’t care ‘cause you gots you some nitrous. Yeah, you know… like that.  Alas, this was not the case.  Alternately, it seemed to have the opposite effect on me, slowing my pace and leaving me longing for… something.  Perhaps another tasty encounter with the bugnado insect cloud that I passed through on the first leg of this run for no other reason than because now… I had the munchies.

I would be remiss if I did not lend a little advice related to the nose-rocket practice that is popular with seasoned runners, and unsuccessfully attempted by many newbies.  It is the practice of clearing the nasal passages during a run to get more oxygen to your euphoria fueled brain.  Seasoned runners, you know what I am talking about, but for those who don’t, it is exactly as it sounds… the practice of effectively launching that which is inhibiting the flow of oxygen to the brain, out… (a nose rocket) so the runner can breathe better.  There is a technique, one that should be adhered to if one is to ensure at least a relatively accurate aim. It goes something like this:  The idea is to cover one nostril with a finger and launch your projectile beneath the opposing arm and onto the pathway, street, or trail below without too much lateral velocity as to avoid nailing a neighboring runner in the process.  Never try to send your projectile over the top of your arm.  Nine out of ten times, you will fail miserably, lacquering your own shoulder in the process. This technique (the former, not the latter) has been thoroughly tested over an unknown period of trial and error, and if done properly, should render the runner with a new-found boost of oxygen infused energy.  If done improperly… well, let the chips fall where they may (pun intended) and with any luck you won’t be followed back to your car at the end of your race by some red-faced, runner wielding his newly acquired finishing medal like a weapon demanding that you wipe down his calf.

With this in mind I must add, as I learned last night during my run, this time-tested sinus clearing procedure should never be attempted two days into recovery from a bad head cold… If you do, you will find yourself frantically batting away at your own DNA as it stubbornly dangles to waist level before gently wrapping itself around your forearm, like some alien creature latching onto its long-lost mother.

San Jose Giants Race2

All kidding aside, running, if practiced properly utilizing time-tested proper form and wearing appropriate gear (supportive running shoes, moisture wicking socks and other gear) is a great way for one to stay active and attain a level of fitness that for some (myself included) was thought to be unattainable.

Running is also very therapeutic and is a proven natural antidepressant.  I have benefited from these latter properties on many occasions in the early days of my aspiration to become a runner.  When I embarked on this journey of fitness, solitary bonding with my thoughts and my environment, and entered into a lifestyle of physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being, I was at a turning point in my personal life.  Through the medicinal properties of running I was able to get through those emotionally trying times relatively unscathed.

Ultimately, I run because, by the grace of God, I can… there was a time in my life when, for many years, I could not.

Keep the forward momentum, my friends… The alternative is unacceptable.

J. Johnston

The Scent of Memory

The Scent of Memory

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Funny how the brain works. Memories are stored, and catalogued with scent keys, all accessible in a virtual database. Just plug-in a smell, and voila, like entering a keyword in a computer search we are instantaneously presented with a memory filled with joys and sorrows, pleasures and pains assigned to it from months, years or even decades in our past, as if by magic. Some are quite vivid in detail. Others elude us altogether. At times the brain recalls intimate details about an event, a person or a place—significant or not— some remembrances are delivered-up infused with raw emotion, or perhaps they are merely insignificant moments in time that occurred years in the past. But then, we cannot remember what we had for dinner on the previous evening.

Generally speaking, I have a great memory—for historical data, dates and times of significant events in my life, and the like. What I did the day before… sometimes not so much. My earliest memory, if it serves me right, and it does, is an interaction with a childhood friend. She was the daughter of friends of my parents when I was four years old. I remember her and this particular moment as if it occurred yesterday rather than the reality of the nearly forty-five years that have passed between then and now. My mother used to bathe us together when visiting the home of this family. On this occasion, after powdering our bottoms with baby powder, she put us down for a nap on my little friends’ parent’s bed. Her name was Sheri and she was my earliest friend. Blonde hair, blue eyes and she was cute, for a three-year-old. She may very well still be. Cute, I mean, no longer three. Last I heard she was married and had four children of her own. But things may have changed for her. That report was made thirty-five years ago or more. This particular post-bath moment in time, for reasons that escape me, resonates with me because… well, she kissed me. OK, the kiss landed on my forearm, but it was a kiss nonetheless. To this day, whenever I smell Johnson’s baby powder, I think of Sheri and that after bath-time first kiss.

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A few days ago, on the last leg of an 8 mile out-and-back run on the Sacramento River, I experienced this scent triggered memory phenomenon again. This time, the scent was that of standing pond water—river water in this case—taking me back to my childhood of exploring the outer perimeter of Oak Meadow Park in Los Gatos, a park just below the larger and more well-known Vasona Park in this quaint upscale town in the South Bay Area of California. My brother and I would explore for hours on a given weekend day, time standing still for us, as is common for pre-teen boys fully engulfed in the essential task of park exploration as our parents barbecued and drank beer until dusk, when the park rangers would come around with their giant flashlights, asking everyone to wrap it up because the park was closing. Oak Meadow Park had a stream that ran through it (this may have been the upper fork of Coyote Creek), fed by Lexington Reservoir just to the south before filling Vasona Lake on its way through Los Gatos and then continuing its run through San Jose. The smell of the standing water in sections of the creek and the duck and goose populated Vasona Lake permeated my senses way back then and are forever stored in those odd cells in the brain along with all of the other seemingly meaningless—and some not so meaningless—information.

8x12 Bodega Bay Sunset_+1exp

Last night I was on another run. Not as long, but a run just the same. It’s what I do. I have to maintain The Temple. No one’s going to do it for me, you know? This particular run was around the perimeter of Capitol Park in downtown Sacramento where I live. The park is nearly a prefect mile in circumference, so it makes for good tracking of distance for me and the countless others that jog in a near constant rotation—clockwise on some days, counterclockwise on others—around its perimeter.   On the back side of the park (15th Street between L and N) there is an odd scent that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s always there in that very same spot every time I have passed it over the two years that I have been using the park as my personal training ground. This scent instantly takes me back to a time two years ago when I first moved to Sacramento and was searching for an apartment to rent. The scent is fleeting, lasting but three strides of my typical 10 minute-mile pace, part floral and part the scent of antiquity. When I was looking for an apartment, I used a rental agency that took me around to look at prospective units. I toured many apartments, some in more recently constructed buildings and others that were of the more vintage variety in buildings that had seen more than their share of administration change in this great state. It was the small vintage—some not so much vintage as just plain old—of the apartment buildings I toured that were infused with this particular aroma. Not a bad smell, inherently, but an unmistakable tang of old construction, best described as the smell of antiquity that was peculiarly mixed with a pungent bouquet. This fragrance had to be coming from some type of landscaping flora or another, conceivably of a variety used in a bygone era—hence the recall—but of a resilient species that has endured the rigors of time and the volatility of decades of climate change.

Hotel Marshall

The period of my life when I moved to Sacramento was one of great turmoil, a time which conveyed much sadness, although conversely ample enthusiasm of new beginnings full of new geographically procreated personal and artistic potential.

If ever I feel the masochistical need to reminisce on that time, for its positive attributes or to evoke the immense melancholy tied to that particular chapter in my life, I just go for a run around Capitol Park—clockwise rotation or contrasting counter—or simply sit on the grass in that tiny segment of 15th Street where this unmistakable aroma resides, wafting its emotionally charged aromatic formula into the air, infiltrating the senses of all who walk, run, or ride past. This would have proven impossibly painful for me at one time, but I’ve since come to terms with those emotions and the decisions at their origin.  And who’s to say that this same recipe of scents does not trigger an alternatively joyous memory for another. I take no ownership of that which brings up feelings of regret, passion, or pain as it relates to the memories that environmental experiences evoke, just to say, that they exist and that no matter how painful their evocative properties, we are better for the experience. It only proves to the world and to ourselves that we are alive.

Liberty Cemetery_edge

Memories… we’re all only an aroma away from being transported to another time, another place, yet we are usually ill prepared for the feelings that await us there. We are an emotionally driven species occupying this tiny blue speck in the deep recesses of our vast universe. Our recollections are alive and well, residing within us all… until the day comes when they leave us… and they will. Gradually at first. Then one day, they will be gone forever, never to return. Memories, good and bad, happy and sad, these are cherished glimpses of moments in time. Hold them dear… for the day will come, sooner for some, later for others, when they will have departed for good.

The next time that a scent takes you to another time, to another place, a place where memories reside, fond or to the contrary, relish it but for a moment. Don’t stay there too long. Let the past remain in the past lest we lose ourselves in a time that is no longer belongs to us. Reminisce… but only for a moment. We owe it to ourselves and to those with whom we occupy those memories to move on—on to the present and to the future, for that is where new memories are created. We are not closing the door on them… just filing them away as to make room for more.

-JLJ

“The Hall” an excerpt

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The Hall

It was clogged with bodies.  The hall.  None of them were hers but who could be sure.  This has been her life, her way for so many generations that sometimes she loses track of her kills, her conquests, her food.  She needs them.  Each and every one of them to survive, in order to exist at all.  There are times when everything is just a blur, one scream, one frantic imploration for salvation after another, for life, for saving.  The pleas meld into one another.  Over time, the years, the centuries the screams, the pleas all begin to sound the same.  The imploring voices all possess the same acoustic tonalities, the same pitch, the same sound carrying with them the same urgency… all saying the same things over and over and over again:  “please, go away.  You scare me.  They tell me that you are not real—that you don’t really exist, yet I see you day in and day out.  I have for years.  Please, just leave me alone!”

But these pleas, these solicitations for mercy always fall upon deaf ears, for you see… it is not up to her to select who is saved and who is not.  It is not her decision who is spared her madness, who lives and who dies in this dark, dark world from whence she dwells.  The role of God is not hers to play.  But, is that not the role she adopts when she does not answer the multitudes of requests to spare life, and instead, takes it?

The hall could, however, be filled with the carrion of another.  There are others like her you know; the ones that dwell in the dark.  The ones that thrive in the void of night conducting their business as if it were the appropriate thing to do.  Annoying—disturbing–Killing.  It is however, unlikely that the rotting flesh piling up in the hall belongs to anyone but she, for this is her house.  This is her realm.  Here, she makes the rules and in this house is where those who know her or are at least acquainted with her ways and give respect to her techniques because she is not only the ruler of the night but the day.  She is the ruler of lives, when those lives are unwilling or unable to contain her.

Beneath Evenly spaced cones of soft amber light she hunts.  That is the stage from whence the curtain of tonight’s performance will be raised.  Shadows dissolve and then solidify again as if in not doing so would negate their very existence as she traverses the intersecting alleys of the urban jungle that is her downtown Sacramento home on this night.  Perpetually, she makes her rounds.  Her nocturnal activities have gone undetected in so far as she could tell.  Except for that one incident on the east end of Capitol Park; the forty acres of lush flora that surround the California State Capitol building.  It was there, crumpled beneath the bronze statue of a soldier at the military memorial next to the rose garden he was found, as if freshly slain by the lifeless metal figure itself, its gaze fixed upon the bloody and equally lifeless man at its feet.  A blood splattered bronze bayonet clutched tightly in his right hand told the tale.  For all intents and purposes, this was an exceptionally brutal form of suicide, but she knew better and so did he… wherever he now was.  The events of that warm summer night in August of 2013 were unfortunate, but the night could not have concluded in any other way.  The deed had to be done.

Whatever the origin of their encounter with one another, he too was on a quest –trolling—when he happened upon her on that dark downtown street in the appropriately christened neighborhood of Alkali Flat.

After a brief exchange of pleasantries, they strolled.  Hand and hand as if they were familiar, and they were—intimately in fact, but not in the physical sense, although the heat of their pressed palms with fingers interlaced like high school sweethearts would suggest this.  To the outside world they were strangers in the night.  They strolled several blocks southwest until they came upon the old historic Biltmore Hotel.  Long ago abandoned she will never again know the folly of her heyday, the late nineteenth century… the Biltmore and her alike.  Hesitating momentarily before the ancient entrance, once grand and ornate but now a crumbling shell of her former self, she cast a glance over a shoulder as if in anticipation of receiving a sight… perchance a sound with which to reminisce.  Alas there was none.  Only fond memories of an era long ago lost to the industrial revolution and the never-ending march of progress.  The unfamiliar strangers, in expectation of becoming familiar if only for a few moments—hours perhaps, resumed their promenade.

What happened that night was wholly unintended, but compulsory…  unavoidable.  It had to be done.  The gavel fell.  The law of nature called her infinite courtroom to order setting in motion the events of a dark and metaphysical encounter, the likes of which would prove unprecedented for these streets.  For this city.  For the unsuspecting of these two formerly unfamiliar strangers.   For one, the evening’s journey had reached its destination.  The other, well… his journey’s end was reached as well… or perhaps, for him it had only just begun.