[Fuel, September 2010.]
Here is Indian Summer: sweet blue light at the beach on Saturday afternoon, happy dogs and the smell of bonfires, digging toes deep into the sand, the waves crashing and sparkling in the sun. Then the next day: clear skies from 7a on save for a pea-soup fog along the coast, dense and drifting, with lots of happy surfers entering the churn. Later after 19 miles — the park, the trees creaking in the breeze, the liters of water, the hot sun.
Fall makes me want to go places — that cool wind, that sky, that slanting light that all of a sudden is fall-light and not summer-light. For now it is fall absolutely and terribly, despite the 80-degree temperatures, despite the stellar forecast, despite my bare arms, despite my lingering tan. On Saturday I saw winter squash at the farmers’ market, and the apple seller is back for the duration.
(I didn’t buy any cider.)
Twice I’ve been to the U.K. in autumn: once, six years ago, to London and Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye; last year to London/environs. A few times I’ve been to Maine, to feel the air turn heavy with the chilly promise of winter; one October I went to Vermont to watch the leaves burst red and gold and fall thickly to the ground. Sometimes I’d be in California for a few days of this stolen season before going back to the still-pressing humidity of the East Coast.
But this year — this time — I’m not going anywhere. All I’m doing is running and running and eating good tomatoes and sitting in the sun for a few stolen hours here and there. I’m baking brownies and eating veggie burgers and thinking about fall soups (carrot-fennel, maybe, or butternut squash-pear) and Thanksgiving dishes and chewing over story ideas. I’m not spending enough time reading the NY Times on Sundays but I am catching up on my New Yorkers, finally, and also a few books. California has got me for a good long while it seems.
Oh fall: yeah, here you are yet again, winking behind a scrim of sun and salt, belying the darker months to come. You make me hopeful and melancholy at the same time (and g-d damn the infernal birthday blues, cropping up right on schedule as per usual). You make me nostalgic for old loves and cultivate new ones. You are too many apples and pots of applesauce to be canned and stored neatly away. You make me homesick — for all the old familiars, and for places I haven’t yet been. You make me want to gather up everyone I love and miss and take them all to Yosemite, to Glacier Point at dusk (remember), and go eat pizza after in Curry Village. You make me listen to a lot of Bruce Springsteen and then, Beethoven. You are golden and blue and sometimes white-gold and shorter days too soon. Way, way too soon.
Sunday I ran a lot and came home sweaty and starving, as tends to happen. I slapped on the ice pack to deal with a pesky shin splint twinge (the ITB, remarkably, seems fine but a shin splint …?!), toasted some bread, and fried up some mushrooms and a veggie burger. Oh — first I had some chocolate milk, which I have never much liked and never drank as a kid, but which is sometimes the only thing I can stand after running for three hours; the stomach is a bit complainy and wants nothing at all (but you have to eat). So I had the chocolate milk to coat my poor stomach and stretched out my protesting legs and wondered, again, why we do this (this running) except for that I know, and I will know even better in three weeks when the marathon is over. Running is a strange beast, at least for me — I love it, and it’s essential to me as air, but it also can sometimes be the source of my greatest frustration. Too slow, too achey, too tired, too this or that — if I’m not there mentally, as what happened on Sunday morning, I despair and grimace and groan. On the other hand, it can sometimes be the source of my greatest joy — last week, for example, I pushed through 22 miles and it wasn’t so bad and I didn’t throw up and I had a lovely lunch cooked for me after and a beer and it was magic.
That’s how that goes.
If fall for me is characterized a bit by the wistful, the wondering, it is also characterized by running. Five years ago right now I also was training for a marathon (the Marine Corps, in DC) and was also in California, though in Sebastopol, where I logged my solitary miles on the back-roads near my parents’ house, catching my shorts on blackberry bushes and thoroughly mystifying the white horses in the field on Watertrough. A fall race — be it marathon, 1/2, 10-miler, 5k — is the best kind of race: summer’s heat is mostly gone and you have hours of daylight still to train in. You feel like you’re ready for winter somehow, if you can get in a fall run.
So I ran, and it wasn’t the best though it wasn’t the worst, either, and had some chocolate milk and then ate the veggie burger. And you know — there’s really not much else I can ask for (except maybe for no injuries to materialize between now and Oct. 17. Crossing fingers.). I reminded myself that not every run is a stellar one, felt the air fresh and sweet again against my forehead, remembered how the ocean looked at 9.30 a.m., ghostly in the fog and dotted here and there by the intrepid surfers. If running can get me out of the house early on a Sunday to see all of that — not to mention give me an excuse to stuff myself with a veggie burger — I think it’s worth the hip aches and exhaustion and unceasing appetite and everything else.
Anyway — here it was a sunny weekend, hot and still. It became fall. I went to the beach and drank some beer with old friends and ate a veggie burger, and it was enough.
How I do a veggie burger
Stuff you need:
– toasted bread or bun
– mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup
– some mushrooms
-some lettuce or spinach (but romaine, crisp, is THE BEST)
– cheese, lots
-ripe avocado slices
– few slices red onion
-thick slice tomato, if it’s a good one
-VEGGIE BURGER, semi-defrosted: I like Gardenburger mostly — the grillers or the porto mushroom ones — or a Boca Burger
Get everything together and liberally slather the bread/bun with mayo/mustard/ketchup. Slice the mushrooms thinly and sautee in a little bit of olive oil. When they’re nearly done, turn heat down and add the burger, gently pressing and flipping every so often so it’s cooked all the way through. You want it to sizzle a bit. Meanwhile slice the onion, tomato, avocado, etc. When burger is done, plop on the bread/bun and pile on the cheese and mushrooms. Add the veggies. Add the top piece of bread and press down firmly. Cut in half. Devour.