My daughter was not quite yet an adolescent when she taught me the importance of running with eyes wide open.
Not that she was fetishistically attentive to physical safety. On the contrary. Her nickname was Mimi Dreamie, earned from her habit of inhabiting imaginary spaces while running full tilt into very real trees and other large, hard, plainly visible objects.
She was, however, quick on her feet and I saw some potential for her to develop as a teenager into a promising sprinter or perhaps middle distance runner. I would encourage her to come for shorter runs with me to see if a love of running would take in her. She would gamely trot along, though it turned out she was a) doing it to humor me and b) far more interested in what she could uncover in her surroundings than in the amount of ground she could cover.
On a particular occasion in Calgary, we were running through the neighborhood of Elbow Park and I was cajoling her to try to keep an even pace when I realized she had stopped in her tracks at a street corner half a block behind me. When I got back to her, she was standing, staring up into the sky, pointing a finger upward.
"Look," she said as I approached, "a goose on a roof."
I looked up and there stood perhaps the largest Canada Goose I've ever seen, poised on a roof as if posing to be photographed for its debut appearance on a postage stamp. We stood for several minutes, dad and daughter on a Calgary street corner, admiring this great, huge, startling, lump of iconic bird. Our conversation, when we began to run again, became a stream-of-consciousness Dr. Seuss playbook on the possibilities of the words goose and roof.
My daughter is long past her teenage years now, yet that encounter endures as one of those small moments that are utterly meaningless except for the fact that they are noticed and so will never be forgotten. Indeed, they can never be forgotten precisely because of the way the noticing teaches us to see again and again.
I don't know how many thousands of miles I have run since then, but a potential goose on the roof is—figuratively anyway—always somewhere in my peripheral vision. Running is, of course, seen as many things: competitive, demanding, healthy exercise, psychologically soothing, blah-blah-blue. But a primary thing missed by people who hate running, or would like to love it but can't quite get started, is how seamlessly it brings together a felt sense of physical presence in the world with the pure joy of seeing God's light shaping His creation. It really does pay to run with your eyes wide open. It pays not just in the moment but in memory.
Last weekend, the day before running the Vancouver half marathon, I went for an easy morning jog in the city's West End, marveling at what an elegant neighborhood it has evolved into over the past few decades—or more properly returned to become again what it once was.
More than 65 years ago my grandfather, a Norwegian blacksmith, used his careful savings to buy a family house on one the streets I ran along. When I was not quite yet an adolescent, the house and dozens like it were demolished to make way for the execrable architectural pustules that were Vancouver's first true high rise apartment buildings. The destruction turned the area into all-but a transient slum, complete with houndstooth hookers all along Davie Street and some of the side streets.
Running through the area, genuinely renewed rather than boutiquishly re-fabricated, I had to admit I liked what I saw. If it will never be a family neighborhood again—property prices driven by proximity to English Bay and Stanley Park makes that impossible—the new(ish) buildings show at least a strong reflection of the old elegance. There is a sense that those who built them cared about the fact they would face onto streets that will be walked or, better yet, run along.
At one point in my jog, a sea gull hung briefly suspended above me in the light breeze and glorious West Coat early light, before squealing off to haggle over fish in False Creek. Not a goose on a roof, exactly, but worth keeping an eye out for.