The Crematoria Runners’ Club

Late in the morning, I pass the same people trotting along the path. We are getting away with something. The sun is already over the mountains, and the temperature is rising rapidly. If we don’t get to shelter within the hour, we will burn up from the inside. The next day’s dawn walkers will find us bloating on the side of the trail, or worse, we will have to call for rescue. That is, if we have a phone. I never bring a phone.

I can only answer for why I run at this time of day.

My choice is pragmatic, partially. At some point in the central Arizona summer, it will not cool down at night. To continue to operate in the hottest months, the body must acclimate in preparation for that unrelenting heat.
But my choice also derives from a mild case of misanthropy. In the early hours of the morning, the dilettantes are about. Snowbirds walk their dogs along the trails at that time. Dieters who graduate from the contemplation stage to the action stage in their weight loss journey, turn out for their therapeutic rambles right after sunrise.

Dilettantes are friendly. It goes with the low commitment mentality. I don’t want to have to greet them or to detour around them on the trail. I don’t dislike them; I just don’t want to break my stride. So, I run when the heat has driven them away.

None of the other runners says hello in passing. Each makes a slight detour to pass the other on the trail. Everyone is concentrating. No one is smiling. Our club is not social. This is true to the extent that no one is following the same route, and when we pass each other, it is on the way to our own, individual paths.

My path leads up a wash sandwiched between two expensive housing developments. Preserved to prevent flash flooding in the communities, the wash now serves as a sort of terrarium for the exclusive houses which fence in the watercourse on either side.

I can hear the homeowners sometimes as I run, chatting as they enjoy a leisurely late breakfast on their back patios. The activities of their households echo in the wash as well – the sound of water filling their pools, the drone of leaf blowers wielded by landscape staff, the rumbling engines of their pickup trucks.

They don’t bother me, because they strictly ignore me. I share a status with the rattlesnakes, coyotes, javelina, and occasional bobcats who come down the wash. Though viewed with distaste, such creatures are tolerable as long as they stay in the terrarium.

As I run, more desirable fauna scatter before me. A few of these are rodents, (Western ground squirrels and desert rabbits), but most are birds. Flying from the tree branches are Rose finches and hummingbirds. On the ground, a roadrunner will occasionally dash across the trail. But mostly, California Quail break cover and run as I approach.

I like roadrunners. They are fast and agile. They have little fear and are driven by curiosity.

I despise the Quail. On this subject, my opinion is at odds with the majority judgment, which holds these birds in high esteem. However, the majority’s opinion is profoundly superficial at base.

The Quail have beautiful plumage, with very distinctive markings around their eyes and chest and a feather bobble which sprouts from the center of their head and hangs over between their eyes. Their calls are loud and emotive. They are handsome birds, but they are abject cowards

Despite excellent camouflage, they haven’t the gumption to hide. Even rabbits do better at freezing in the face of an oncoming threat. And once the quail lose their heads and flee, they flee in a pitiful fashion. They zigzag, but not with the head fakes and hard turns expected from an animal juking for its life. They change directions in a weak and indecisive pattern associated with sheer panic. They forget that they can fly, relying on whatever speed their stubby little legs can generate. Only when they would certainly be caught, does instinct takeover to deploy their wings. Worst of all, if chicks are trailing the adults during one of these stampedes, the adults will abandoned their offspring straightaway, either on foot or in the air.

Nor are the quail merely thralls to their fear. They are prone to indulge any impulse to its logical conclusion. There is a flock of quail which frequents the outdoor tables at the Desert Botanical Gardens snack bar. Their human admirers have fed these birds on scraps until the quail have lost all fear, and live only in anticipation of the next potato chip. They cluster around the chairs within easy reach of anyone with bad intent. They are so fat now, that they have lost the ability to fly.

By the time I reach the top of the wash, the quail, along with all the rest, have sought shelter in the underbrush as the desert simmers. The trail carries on up a steep hillside. I turn around at the top of the slope and start back. Now it grows hotter by the minute, but I cannot hurry or I will begin to generate more heat than I can dissipate. I don’t pass anything or anyone on the way back down. The club has disbanded.

They say that this will all end soon, because of the car that I drive to the trailhead and the heat pump that cools my hiding place from the furnace outside. Day by day it will just keep getting warmer until living in the valley becomes impossible.
Everyone that can will have to sell out and become a Snowbird. The rest will have to make do. Whatever else may follow, no one knows. The only sure thing is: drive, run, or fly, we are not going to get out of the terrarium.

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