On what I thought would be a lonely, insignificant day in December, I went on a trail run near my home in Dripping Springs, TX. There was an airy spring to my step despite the heaviness I felt. The ground was soft and supportive at the same time. The crunch of the leaves was soothing and I began to feel a sense of peace as I ran through Charro Ranch Park. I felt a literal and figurative breath of fresh air and a feeling of returning to me. I found this a bit odd considering the chaos swirling, no, more like torpedoing, through my life. My husband had left. To where and for how long, I did not know, but somehow there were two things that were getting me out of bed every day: running, and my dog, Timer.
Now, I know what you might be thinking. I hate running! So did I. And it wasn’t something that came naturally or easily to me at all. But as I was coming out of a knee injury, and with divorce looming on the horizon, I paid a visit to my PT and declared I intended to run a trail half marathon on my birthday, depending on his prognosis. Once he cleared me for training, there was absolutely no stopping me anymore.
Back on the trail, I can’t recall what training day this was, but trail running was providing me a reprieve from being prisoner to my emotions. I was able to step away from my mind fairly easily and become more of an observer rather than an active participant in my tempestuous grief and anger. The trails kept me present, grounded, and each step propelled me into what felt like a fuller version of myself. I found comfort in being able to control my pace, following a path with a known destination, and foraging on even when I wanted to give up or when the trail became less obvious. Even if it was just for an hour of my day, that one hour made me feel like I could keep going no matter what happened.
As I continued on my run, I surprised myself by how good I started to feel, especially considering that getting out of bed was a big chore these days. But I felt at home on the trails, supported by the trees, whisperings of the wind, and the roots and rocks that assembled in challenging but fun patterns. It was while I was concentrating on a particularly rugged section of the trail that I saw a flash of silver and grey. Startled, I looked up, and running along side of me to my left, was a wolf. I stopped dead in my tracks unsure of what to do. I held my breath as she continued running, eventually cutting in front of me with a quick glance in my direction before taking off ahead. Stunned, I wondered if it was safe for me to continue. There are no wolves in Texas, I would say, half questioning that fact. But I know what I saw, and to this day, there is no convincing me otherwise.
I decided to continue with my run. There was something majestic and empowering about whatever it was I just witnessed, and as soon as my run was over, I immediately drove to the bookstore to purchase Women Who Run with the Wolves. I had been meaning to purchase it for years and I couldn’t imagine a better time to do so. Following this strange event, my training would continue to excel, my marriage would continue to decline, and I would run a 25k trail race on my birthday a few weeks later and continue to sign up for every race I could afford or attend. It wasn’t about my time or what place I would finish at (I was far from anything impressive), but it did become about this new community I was falling in love with more and more each day. Runners are so kind on the trails, and there’s something about cheering on strangers and strangers cheering on you that makes this world feel a little less harsh. Like climbing, I would take these lessons I learned from the woods and apply them to my daily life. These trail runs would help me to better focus on the path directly in front of me instead of looking too far ahead and worrying about something before it even happened. Like when my eyes use to follow the trail for the foreseeable distance and if I saw an upcoming hill, my body would immediately slow down. I would feel tired and start to loose steam, and all before I even began the incline! How powerful the mind is. But if I focused on what was directly in front of me, it was more manageable, taking one step at a time until I reached the finish line. Just like my divorce, I had to take running and training day by day, and often times when it felt really grueling, I’d have to take it moment by moment.
About a year or so later, I made a new friend. We started spending time together and eventually I met his dog, Nova. Nova is a mixed husky who is wildly friendly to humans, predatory to other dogs, at times seemingly feral, and she looks incredibly similar to a wolf. We didn’t get along right away. This was shocking even to me as I had not met a dog I didn’t like, more like, I didn’t love. But she was difficult and aggressive, and I wasn’t use to the husky energy after having been around Golden Retrievers for so long. But as time went on, this friend became a partner, and Nova would eventually accept that her duo pack had become a trio, and even more unexpected, this little pack would eventually embark on van life, hardly really knowing one another.
As I mentioned before, Nova is at times wild and mostly only listens to her dad, my partner, Dylan. So you can imagine my trepidation when he headed off to a family trip and Nova and I stayed behind in the van. By this point we had become pretty close, but that didn’t give me any hope that she would behave with dad gone. She was mostly wonderful during this time, however, except for the unfortunate incident when she pushed me down into a cow pie and then proceeded to pounce on me out of excitement. That’s Nova for you.
Since Dylan was gone, I had opportunity for alone time for the first time in a long time. I imagined things would come up in these moments of quiet and stillness, and they did. One night in particular, I found myself moving through a bout of painful unlearning and sat ruminating on the floor of the van. A few tears forged pathways down my crow’s feet, gliding down my check until Nova sweetly devoured the salty tears that were filled with my self-pitying woes. She slapped a big lick across my face and suddenly I jerked my head up and stared at her in shock and wonderment. A wolf. Her eyes locked intensely on mine and I finally mustered a whisper. Was it you? That day on the trail flashed through my mind and I realized how much Nova looked like the creature I saw. She was much, much smaller, but her face was strikingly similar. She stared at me fiercely as if she was on the precipice of telling me something important. Her gaze then snapped in a jarring instant and she was looking past my head. What??, I barley uttered. I turned my head slowly, unsure what I was expecting to see, until I saw the tiny clan of terrorists that I had been trying to get out of the van all day. Flies. That fleeting moment between us, if it even was a moment, was gone, and she was hungrily licking her lips and baring her teeth in preparation for their destruction.
Since beginning van life, Nova, Dylan and I have run many times in the mountains. The remote settings allow for Nova to run off leash and it brings me endless joy to watch her sprint in and out of the tree lines, sometimes taking off up to 200 yards before eventually circling back to us. I can tell, like me, she is free out here. She has stepped into her power and is living the life she’s meant to.
Whatever I actually saw that day, whether it was just a coincidence or a sign from the universe that I really was going to be OK, I cherish that memory. It was a gift and a reminder that the only person I was ever meant to chase was me. Now, Nova and I coexist rhythmically and we find our harmony best when we run through the woods. She doesn’t belong to me, nor I to her, but she is living proof of my resilience and of a bigger collective resilience in both trying and empowering times.
On our last run together, Nova and I explored Three Sisters Wilderness outside of Bend, OR. We ran effortlessly through the woods, streams and wild flowers. It was exactly how I remembered that strange day in Dripping Springs, except this time this wild, sweet wolf was running with me, and I felt overcome with emotion that this was so, so much better. Look how far we both have come, I said to her. I then glanced at my watch realizing we needed to head back to the van. The sun was at a perfect golden hour and followed us as we weaved along the curvy, rocky trail until it slowly tucked itself behind the mountains turning the sky cotton candy dreamy.