Monday, January 03, 2005

New Years Day

All is quiet on New Years Day.

Song lyrics by U2, in which Bono sings about crowds gathered in black and white, symbolic of Northern Ireland's sectarian paramilitary conflicts and the divide they created. The conflict in the "occupied six counties" is far from over, and the image of a bleak first day of the year is all too familiar for many of us. And U2 fanatic I am not, but the song, absorbed through a youth spent glued to college and "alternative" rock radio, is lodged in my musical cortex only to spring forth at random profound moments, such as the aftermath of a tsunami, where white is the garb of death and mourning in some of the affected countries. Subdued New Years Eve celebrations were the order of the night December 31 and certainly frolic and exercise the next day didn't seem like appropriate supervening actions.

I strained some inner region of my right calf muscle running hard over the course of a few days--on the track, the fog-enveloped foothills of Marin and then sprinting in a downpour from the Marina to Fort Point below the Golden Gate Bridge. The cumulative pounding resulted in an inability to put weight on the leg, pain, of course, and some frantic searches on the net for quick fixes. Turns out only RICE (runners pseudonym for rest, ice, compression, elevation) can help; out went the chance for some other potentially interesting thunderstorm runs last week. But somehow, pain and all, I felt magnetically compelled to go for a run New Years Day 2005. So, into the car and down Fulton Ave to dumpy, graffiti-pocked, snowy plover-inundated Ocean Beach I went.

The beach was not a metaphorical, sentimental or favored destination for personal reflection and solitude, rather it served a practical purpose for my leg: sand is soft, and thus does less damage to healing muscle tissue than concrete. Since all my grass running options were more or less mud-engulfed reservoirs from a week-long winter deluge, Ocean Beach, rain or shine, would provide the surface I was looking for. But on arrival, truth be told, especially after some 150, 000 souls are washed away, you tend to look at the ocean in a different light. Apparently I wasn't the only one who thought so.

The mood at the waterfront was somber, made all the more so by a grey, cloud speckled sky. A mile or so into my run, away from the crowds that amass at the beachfront where Fulton Ave meets the Great Highway, only a few scattered dog walkers, tourists and the odd jogger were my company--save the flowers. Standing like rows of zen sentinels, dozens of white lilies, carnations, chrysanthemums and daisies, were stuck in the sand, facing the water. These went on for a mile or so, very purposefully spaced and reverently delivered. As if on cue, like in a cliche music video, the white flowers triggered the U2 song in my head.

Later, with the pain stinging my calf like angry wasps attacking a stray doe, the sun set quickly and the terrain grew dark except for five very well-built bonfires, surrounded alternately by blanket-clutching, cooler-toating groups of college kids, or homeless veterans in groups of no more than three, the latter trying to stay warm and cook a meal. Just another day of survival at the beach.