I arrived out here in the California mountains last week and the very next morning I went for a trail run. As I was getting ready, I was debating whether I should listen to the book I was in the middle of reading with my ears. After all, said a judge-y voice, I was in the mountains, shouldn’t I just be paying attention to nature? Why was I looking for distraction, when I could listen to the wind in the trees and the dust beneath my feet? Did my reverence for the terrain fall short? Then another, gentler voice, chimed in. Just listen to your book. Who made up these rules anyway? Who says you can’t honour nature while engaged with literature?
View from the top of Castle Peak in California. One of my absolutely favourite funs!
I listen to books when I run. I love the feeling of a voice cozied into my ear, telling me a story or illuminating a topic I’m curious about.
I listened to my book. I ran a favourite trail, while Clint Smith (the author) recounted his journey to Senegal to visit a slave house, in his book, How the Word Gets Passed: Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America. In the book, he visits a variety of places directly connected to slavery, including Angola prison and the Monticello Plantation (owned by Thomas Jefferson). As I was running and listening, I suddenly thought-this land I’m on may not be directly implicated in these stories I’m listening to, but I cannot disentangle my privilege at having access to this gorgeous swath of nature, from the fact that this whole country was built on slavery. Never mind that here in Truckee, California, there is also the story of the oppression of the Chinese population, brought here to build the railroad under brutal conditions.
I realized that, for me, running with a book is a way of connecting with other people, just as surely as running enables me to connect with nature. I fortify each of these connections, by bringing them together in what suddenly felt like a spiritual practice. Often when I’m listening to a book, like Clint Smith’s, I am overcome by emotion. Because I am running, I can allow my emotions to flow freely. I can allow the book to touch me more deeply, because I’m alone and even if I pass other people, the experience is so brief, that I don’t need to worry about my tears or my joy being disconcerting. My intellect is interacting with my felt sensations to create a new reading experience. I can interact with the book in a more embodied way.