I bundled my running clothes into a bag when Mom and I headed to the ranch. I love running on the ranch. There isn’t always time to run when on the ranch, but I always hope that there will be and arrive with my running tights, shoes, and gear. I am used to and love the expansive views and horizons of my high desert running trails around around in Santa Fe. The prairie of the western South Dakota plains holds a whole different kind of space. Surrounded by sheer prairie, there is a sense of running under the great blue bowl of the sky above.
Many years ago I was on a run along the highway with the then small kids in the jog stroller that I pushed in front of me. A pickup truck passed us along the highway and what I remember is the synchronized movement of four heads wearing cowboy hats moving in unison toward us as they passed. When I arrived back at the ranch house and told Mom and Dad about it, Daddy said, “The only time people run out here is when there’s a bull crawling up your back!”
I pulled on my gear, stretched out, and headed out for a good run one morning. I had a virtual meeting a couple of hours later and had to be back in time for that. This gave e plenty of time. Up the lane out of the ranch headquarters, I ran in the pickup tracks that created the road along the desperately dry dam north of the house. I noticed antelope had been along this trail before me.
I ran up the slight rise on the other side of the dam and followed the trail out across the prairie. One major difference in my running rhythms on the ranch — while I’ve been loving listening to audible books and running deeper into language in New Mexico, I was all ears now as I listened for the tell-tale sound of a rattlesnake along the path. While I knew there was a stunning sky above, I kept my eyes fixed to the trail scanning for snakes.
The day before, Daddy had shown me where there was some dirt work happening on one of the dams and I headed in that direction. The north winds pushed the water in the dam against the southern edge and over time this movement eroded the edge to create a sharp ledge. Dry dams due to drought offer the possibility to do work that cannot be done when they are full. As I passed the dam and up another rise, a pickup truck crested the top and we met along the road. “Now, there’s a sight you don’t see very often,” the bemused driver said, on his way to finish the work.
I ran past a mama and baby, bringing back memories of the many years that I nursed my own babies on the ranch. In Meadowlark, I wrote of Grace nursing, “Beyond the window, a silver slice of sun rose in the sky. Light drenched the land in water-stained cornflower blue and drew crisp edges of continue and depth, defining the curve of knolls and vales invisible to the eye in the full light of day. Her eyes moved from the mound of her breast out to the mounds and concave indentations of the prairie. Grace saw in the prairie an evocation of the curves of a woman. She felt her body’s link with the conformation and silhouette of the land.” I smiled.
I ran on along the barbed wire fence, eyes and ears extra keen for snakes.
I realized that in enjoying all, my run was longer than I’d intended, so I started looking for paths back to the ranch house. I left the tire tracks and ran along a cowpath headed in the right direction.
I came to a fork in the paths and thought of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken:
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.