Today, on Valentine’s Day, the weather was truly taunting us with its own meteorological love letter as it held out the prospect of spring: when I started my run from the school it was fifty-two degrees and pale-blue skies. It was the first day since the marathon that I’ve run without tights on, and the feeling of crisp air on my bare legs was invigorating. (I actually left the school with a pair of sweat-pants on over my shorts, then stopped after half a mile to strip them off and shove them into my running backpack. I’m worried that if I tried walking out of LGJ in my skimpy running shorts that I might cause some of the kids to accidently walk head-long into traffic). As much as I’ve rhapsodized about the joys of winter running, it is days like that this that haunt my running dreams, spring days where the air manages to carry both a hint of winter’s chill and the promise of summer’s warmth simultaneously, where merely breathing is in itself a joyous activity. These are the days that always cut me with sharp pangs of nostalgia, bringing with them a sense of undefined loss and yet inexplicable joy, unexpected promise.
Perhaps it is because they are liminal, times of transition, that they always stir up tones of child-hood, of lying in the grass and listening to the coastal winds whispering in the pine boughs overhead; of sitting on the back porch of my dorm at Bard, staring at the first signs of green dotting the Catskills across the Hudson. More than any other season, Spring always stirs up the memories of every previous Spring, as if there is one and only one Spring that returns to us after each unique Winter.
Perhaps it is because of this same transitory nature that these premature Spring days are perfect for running, as this weather practically demands movement, urging you to get up, get up and head outside and travel somewhere, anywhere, to let your steps wander errantly and directionless, movement as movement alone, as an excuse to fill your lungs with the suddenly alive air. Today I ran past the shadow of Yankee Stadium and then across the McComb’s Dam Bridge, crossing into Manhattan then cutting down into Harlem. I had a destination, but no set route other than the goal of keeping it short and easy in order to help my heel recuperate. My destination was Taqueria y Fonda, the small, hole-in-the-wall taqueria that M and I have celebrated Valentine’s Day at for as many years as I can remember. We dislike the corporate trappings of most major American holidays, and since commodifying one’s relationship into the clichéd, pre-packaged sentiments of Hallmark and Nestle has always struck us as ridiculous, we’ve made a tradition of seeking out this most unromantic restaurant serving its most unromantic fare.
This year, however, Nat was home with a fever, so instead of us going to our shrimp, chipotle, and nopalitos burritos, the burritos were going to travel back with me to Brooklyn. Descending from the end of the bridge, I ran down Malcolm X until it was crossed by the angle of Saint Nicholas, then followed the slanting avenue down and across Harlem until it ran up against the north end of Central Park. The warmer air had brought with it a rather strong wind, but although it made running a bit harder, it also infused the air with even more life, “inspiring” as defined by its Latin roots: the gods breathing within us. I took a quick route through the corner of the park, following the outer-loop road back west, then up the steep slopes of Harlem Hill before cutting down to 108th street, which lead right to the corner of Amsterdam and our Mexican restaurant. I slipped into my sweat-pants and wind-breaker, placed my take-out order, then walked around the block as I waited for our food, breathing in the inspiration of late-afternoon air which still had no hint of evening about it, the sun now lingering longer in anticipation of the equinox. Tomorrow the forecast is for temperatures once again in the 20’s, wind-chills in the high-teens, but for this one day, at least, it is Spring.