The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. My beloved is like a roe or a young hart.
Song of Songs 2: 8-9
There will come a day when your world turns dark. A day when your only wish is to stare into the dark gaping barrel of a machine gun. Ta-ta-ta! You hear no more. Swiftly, sweetly, contentedly, you crumple. Another bad day, another wish: to smash the crooked face of anyone who comes near you. For no good reason. Randomly. Those are not good days or good intentions. But you brought them on yourself, forgetting to breathe like a wolf and fly like a gazelle.
So run through the forests like a wolf, leap o’er the plains like a gazelle. You will smile, my chubby, lazy little brother. Without knowing why. You know nothing of the run! A forest sprint reinvigorates the spirit and makes the body fleet of foot! Hardest is to start. Pay no heed to weariness or ridicule. The worse things get, the better – the best of all principals. Just half an hour a day. You’d dawdle that away drowsily at home anyway. Morning or evening, winter or summer, rain or shine. King of the day is the run. And often the only proper thing you do.
Start in spring, early in the evening, lightly dressed and healthy. Run through forests or meadows. Or anywhere else, though forests are most beautiful: fresh honey air pours off their hillsides. Run lightly without panting, and you will hear the robin’s quiet song. When short of breath, slow your pace but do not stop. To start, run but a few hundred meters, each time farther and longer. Soon you’ll find it no good to run less than five kilometers. Try it three or four times, if you’ve done it right, you’ll never quit. After such exercise, even the thought of tobacco smoke repulses the body – that deathly, sooty air. We suddenly realize what poison we voluntarily put in our lungs. If it was forced on us, we’d sue. Draw near a smoker and smell the bane and death of plague pits. But that isn’t essential to the run. A beginner’s sore legs soon grow strong, bringing with them an ever greater desire for fresh air, pure deep breaths, blissful, soul-cleansing exhaustion, power born of the run. Anger vanishes, envy flees, headaches disappear, and where have all ill wishes gone? Run to diamond realms, to Transylvania if you wish. But start, my lazy little brother! Running is beautiful, healthy, and accessible to all. You can be as poor as a church mouse and still partake of it. It is good in and of itself, as a means and an aim. In time you’ll learn to breathe like a wolf and leap like a gazelle, and nothing will serve you better on your journeys. That is why I write this. But you must begin.
Let me describe, however imperfectly, one such forest jog. The most Mongolian of days: October sunshine on a dry and frosty late afternoon, first snow in north-facing gullies, paths softly blanketed in larch needles, otherwise bare, breezes in a cloudless sky. The most Mongolian of days. I run lightly, solitarily, joyfully. Paths and forest aisles lead uphill and down. At crossings, I take whichever track seems to beckon me on. I run incessantly onward, neither swiftly nor slowly, like a lone wolf in the mountains of Sikhote-Alin. The trivialities of the day melt away, I see how artificial and irrelevant were the cares that troubled my soul. Throb, throb, throb. After three kilometers, October mountains are all I notice. The body is warm, its core fills with delicious air, and dry frost gently stings the nostrils. Quagmires stiffen with a light crust of evening ice. There is nothing more beautiful than running. Silverlike. Up a slight incline. I run lightly, and my thoughts are light and long. I forgive those who have trespassed against me (though they have usually done nothing wrong). I forgive myself for what I haven’t done (and what I have failed to do). My thoughts are ever sweeter, soon I will think only of the run. Forest opium, perhaps it is a good thing.
Steep climbs are delightful. Why do people fear exhaustion so? There is nothing better than to fall wearily to the ground, little brother, entirely deserving of the day! Thud, thud, from its very being the body toils. The hill is steep, you pace your breath – every three steps, two, one. Your neck feels cool, and your back goes soft as if struck by an ax. Higher, higher! If the aim is distant, the body instinctively stretches its will to endure, it is more powerful than you had ever thought. But woe if you choose an aim too near, deciding then to run on. The body feels betrayed. Better indeed to set distant goals!
Summit claimed: oh, joy! Breathing slows. The forest is empty, the beech trees fiery. I raise my voice to shout gleefully across distant woodlands the only word I know. IMBARAHHNA!!! A word that means nothing.
Down from the peak and back to the valley. Feet flying, stride straining, rocks ricocheting, breeze blowing. After five kilometers you catch your stride, now you can run on and on. I’ve heard of Indians on Andean plains that run five hundred kilometers kicking a wooden ball. But ten is enough for me, even without a ball. I wish to find the balance between absolute rest and total exertion. For a life of running or sitting doubtless leads to the same end: a dying off or wearing down of limbs and joints. Therefore, run only as much as you enjoy, my silky little brother!
Back to the valley. Forest yellows no longer glow, they have gone out. Blackbird hour of evening. Black wings flit o’er fields to forests. Birds that waste their days in yards and city streets. At night they return to their birthplaces, like people before death, to woods they abandoned years ago for cities and an easier life. The first star appears and suddenly a tumult of bird calls. Sweat cools my back, and home is near, the best of all resting places. I lay completely still, absolutely limp, totally fulfilled. Euphoria of the forest runner. I melt with benevolence for humankind, with indifference to trivial problems. The deepest of wolf breaths – aaaaaahhhhh! With night’s hour comes sleep, swift and healthy as a black bear.
And with morning’s light? Most delightful of all! Yesterday’s run and sweet exhaustion, absorbed during the night, have turned to jubilant vivacity. Assuredness, exuberance. I leap on high! I walk down the street, and it belongs to me. I smile nonchalantly at a beautiful girl I wouldn’t have dared look at the day before. Yesterday, all I could have mustered was a weary, pitiful croak for which I would have gleaned but humiliating laughter. Today, I call to the dark-haired beauty with indifferent certainty, naturally, easily, merrily – and just like that, she’s mine. Because girls love indifference, my timid little brother. It is our most powerful weapon. Indifference to rejection = self-assuredness. Indifference to illness = health. Indifference to humiliation = humility.
In a street nearby, a honey-haired girl gazes at a shop window. She stands confidently, regally as a queen. But today I step in close and kiss her on the back of her neck, right where the hair meets the head. I wouldn’t have dared without my wolf-strength. She turns, her confidence vanishing. She was in the palm of my hand, but I fly onward swiftly as a gazelle. Hand over head, I wave to her, then spin round, crying gleefully the only word I know. IMBARAHHNA!!! A word that means everything.