Jet streams crossed in the sky and beneath the “x” sat a white crowned sparrow, nonchalantly eyeing me. It didn’t chirp or peep or sing; it didn’t even move; I wondered if it was injured. Birds rarely sit still long enough for me to get my camera out but this one obliged and only flew off when I inched two steps closer. If I hadn’t looked down to see what was under the “x”, I would never have witnessed the bird.
The young woman pushing the stroller full of one child and several long willow branches had seen neither. She was intent on gathering the branches to make a trellis so her mind was fully occupied with childminding and carpentry. In any case, perhaps the “x” was there to point her out to me for the sky is big and the “x” covered quite a territory. Whatever the case, I began to think about symbolism and about a time my mind led me astray in its quest for images that looked interesting.
Gas smelled better when I was a kid and if I got on a couple of blocks of wood and peered into the opening of the fuel barrels on the farm, I could see all kinds of amazing images in the fuel while inhaling the pungent fumes. We lived near a creek and there were power tools and feisty roosters near the shops; these I had been warned about. No one thought to tell me not to sniff gas and it might not have made any difference if they had because my intent was not to smell gas, it was to see what shapes I could see through the opening; the fact that I had to breath while gas gazing was incidental.
I staggered into the house and stood on a chair waving my arms and announcing that I could fly. Mom later said I reeked of gas and she worried I had drank some. She gave me cod liver oil and took me outside so I could vomit in the back yard. I vaguely remember suffering from a bad headache after that but even now, my memory of my own face outlined by clouds and sky peering back at me from the oily blue surface of the fuel remains sharp.
After seeing the cross in the sky the other day, I continued my run and my memories and soon I was peering at the faces staring back at me from the knotholes in the boardwalk at One Mile Lake; here was a version of The Scream; there, an owl; there an evil eye. I photographed them all then realized I was twenty minutes into my “run” and had only been running for about eight minutes. Now, I’ve recently read about meditation running and I suspect I’ve been doing this for a long time though having a camera with me and taking pictures of what I notice doesn’t quite fit the bill for a true version of this practice. I reminded myself that I had been longing for a harder workout and put my camera away.
I resisted the dogwood blooms and the mayflowers and the snake that slithered in and out of the water. The false Solomon’s seal and the blooming Oregon grape caught my eye but did not get me to stop. Trail running forces you to pay attention to the trail or else so I noticed all these things but remained alert to roots and rocks and holes. Then, astonishingly, I saw an “x” drawn into the trail in a perfect replica of the “x” in the sky. Most days, this would mean nothing but today it seemed to have a glaring significance.
There will be those who suspect me of creating this “x” myself just so my story would sound better but if that were the case, I’d have to find another cross somewhere, since two instances of something is only a pair, but three or more is a pattern. Where would my third cross come from?
After forty minutes, I turned around, enjoying the speed of the downhill yet remaining vigilant for the third (or fourth or fifth!) cross. If I just looked hard enough, I figured I’d be able to see it yet I didn’t want my “x” to feel or look contrived. No more “x’s” crossed my path (pun unavoidable) until I got home and went on Facebook. “X marks the spot” read her post. We both grew up here, we both take a lot of pictures of sometimes random seeming things and I suspect our minds work in similar ways; I do not know if she sniffed gas as a child but she might have. I got my third instance; it must mean something.