Chasing trail

I recently discovered the joy of trail running. Although, to be honest, I only started running for pleasure in November. Which, now that I think about it, could’ve been a way to procrastinate. 

You see, I write for pleasure. Opinions, short stories, challenging flash fiction with stringent word limits, and lots of haiku. I’ve also somehow managed to draft a mini novel of about 30 something thousand words. Now I wonder if running was my way to run away from editing the damn thing.

It may have been one of the reasons. The other is, of course, people telling me it’s too hard and I couldn’t do it.

Well, I can. Charged by my inner egomaniac and a metaphoric hair flip, I now run every day to prove to myself that I indeed can. And it was on one of those days, that I realised I like running on a hard hiking trail more than on a sheen of supposedly-seamless foot path. 

It was a fine day in the height of summer—about two or three weeks ago—when hundreds of volunteers were still battling raging bushfires in every corner of the country. I’d woken up late. So when I stepped onto my usual route, the foot path, it was so hot I couldn’t stand the heat. (I know, how ironic that I can’t tolerate 26 degrees when I grew up in a 30-degree country. Celsius.) That’s when I noticed that the mildly-raggedy trail that ran parallel to the foot path, flooded with the shade of gum and other trees I’ll never remember the names of.

So I took to that instead. As I started off, much slower than my regular pace, I felt the obvious difference. The ground didn’t throw back the stubborn resistance of the concrete-laden foot path I’d become accustomed to. It was more giving, in a sense, and forgiving as I lurched myself on to it. I felt the gravel and sand flex underneath my feet, and even though I was often stepping on uneven surfaces, I soon learnt to navigate through it.

Now I enjoy every moment of the experience. 

Of course, I’m no expert. I’ve only run on two different trails so far, but I’ve been doing it enough of times to know I wouldn’t give it up.

The reason?

Trails are amazing personalities. Not only does a trail pave an albeit challenging way, for the runner, but it’s also a constant reminder of how entwined we are with nature. 

When I run on the foot path, I run over well-laid tar and concrete that’s meshed and designed to satisfy humans. It’s such an engineered path that we take it for granted—it has to be perfect and entirely accommodating to our needs. 

The trail, however, is wild. We’re not the master there—the roots of a hundred-year old tree is. In the trail, you don’t kick aside a twig or cut down a tree so you can have your own  way. Instead, nature forces you to swivel and adjust and hope that the harsh realities of the terrain don’t give you sore feet or a broken ankle. When you’re on a trail, you have to respect nature. 

Even the little things, like Sweetgum nuts can roll underneath your shoe and prick their way in to your sole. Or a broken piece of branch that looks deceptively frail can twist your ankle harder than you can imagine. 

On the flip side, on a trail you are slow. Like an overweight dog, as you waddle your way through the wilderness, you notice… everything. Flowers smell more sweeter than before, ants strut ahead of you, and screeching galas crowd overhead clouding your vision of the clear blue sky for just one moment. It’s pristine, and you have an unmatched sense of engaging with nature.

That’s why trail running is so appealing. On my now usual route, I run over the roots of a few ancient trees. They pop out of the ground, like an angry, pulsing vein, with space enough only for four-five toes between them. As I gingerly tip toe over the roots as thick as my fingers, a rush of affection to nature engulfs me—how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things! 

That’s enough to squash any egoistical maniac. 

A psychedelic experience

I went to an art exhibition titled Psychedelic Realism. It’s a collection of about 50 paintings by a renowned Australian artist and musician, Reg Mombassa.

Keeping true to the overarching theme of the exhibition, most of the art work on display illustrated unreal impossibilities, yet harsh truths that you often associate with out-of-the-world experiences. An alien eye, for example. Or a disfigured robot taking over humankind in space.

I knew I was walking into unfamiliar territory. I’d seen a few images online that helped me gauge a pattern with this kind of art. However, I am a complete novice in psychedelic artwork and wasn’t sure what to expect.

Welcoming me were a few questionable robots. One sat in a chair with a bloody blind over its eye. Another seemed to be trying to take advantage of a man. Yet another one wore a suit parading its masculinity. It all looked a little… controversial and worthy of raised eyebrows.

To complement the work, a mild drumming music played in the background, helping me transition from an aloof bystander to a more immersed viewer, reading into and attempting to decode the artist’s brush strokes and glitter usage.

For there was glitter. To my surprise, the artist had incorporated shiny matter to make his colours and characters pop out.

As I moved trough the aisle, I saw other types of work as well. There were houses and bush lands, and Victorian landscapes as the artist interpreted them.

I later learnt that the artist is the owner of Mambo comics and murals—a popular style of art that uses unrealistic and humorous elements—like an Australian Jesus—to drive home a message. Here’re a few examples:

This exhibition has been an eyeopener for me. having seen various styles of psychedelic art online, I never expected to see anything as unique and unconventional as this. Even though I’ve never had a psychedelic experience myself, it was an interesting to wonder what the artist had in mind when creating these.

Rider

“How hard could it be?”

After all, I’d ridden a bike before. It’s been a while, of course, but I wasn’t a novice at the balancing act. Regardless, the last time I’d got on a bike was at my workplace. It was a Saturday morning, and having spent Friday night working a bit and then binge watching movies before I’d passed out from fatigue, I woke up at my desk and decided to ride around the office campus on one of the free office bikes. And so I went round and round our circular building. It was called the tower building for its shape. I wound my way like moon around the earth, making sure I stayed at a respectable distance, just enough to avoid an ugly crash.

That was about three years ago. That was my second time on a bike. The first was about 15 years ago. Desperate to learn, I borrowed my neighbour’s bike, which she never rode. It sat there, grappling in dust, gathering rust, its potential draining away, pointless. Since I didn’t know better, and it was a loaned bike, I couldn’t leave our building. I went up and down the front yard, which at less than hundred metres, still seemed rather lengthy at that frivolous age of 10.

And so when I moved to Canberra and realised everyone rode, to work, to parks, to the pubs, to climate protests, I craved to get myself a bike. Except, it was such a difficult decision. facing me was a gigantic world of wheels and tyres and handlebars in sizes, colours, and models I’d never heard of before.

I used to think gears were appropriate on motorcycles. Turns out, when you’re riding uphill—which is quite a bit in the Canberra region—you’d go nowhere without gears. I found out the value of gears the hard way Riding on a friend’s bike today for the first time since doing those office rounds, I stopped midway on a bridge and gravity snarled as it dragged me backwards. I had to get off and push.

Going down a slope, I wobbled before crashing right into a bush, scratching my knees, bruising the bike, and tearing my jeans. I fell again, scraping the same knee a little later. Never mind, I thought as I cruised down the serene bike path, as the lake expanded on my right. You can’t expect to be unscathed when you’re learning almost from scratch.

When I grazed the ground a little later, I was pissed. Shaken, frustrated, and embarrassed. But still determined. Despite an abundant lack of confidence, I rode home on a bike path my friend suggested. Loved every bit of it.

Non-existent rain and over exposure to heat has left the bush capital parched and yellowing. And yet, as I rode past them, a gentle breeze rode with me, assuring me that all would be well, that plants would recover, that I would recover. It caressed my jeans, sending cold shards of comfort through the hole onto my bleeding knee. Glorious.

As I unlocked my door and gingerly stepped into my home, I smiled. Happy and satisfied with myself.

I too can ride.

Renewed

I have to go.

There’s no reason—
or one to stay for.

There’s no sense—
or sensibility anymore.

There’s no pride—
only prejudice reigns.

There’s no soul—
so bodies a wander.

There’s no air—
except mechanised oxygen.

I have to go—
for beach breathes life
into my suffocation.

Cookies!

I’ve done quite a lot of baking since moving to Australia. But I’m no baker. I’ve never made delectable goods people would want to buy. 

I’ve baked vegetables, pumpkin seeds, and oat clusters. I’m a complete novice otherwise.

I volunteer at a co-operative food shop. Yesterday, one of the managers walked up to me as I cleaned the counter and asked me how I felt about baking. 

Unprepared. Unconfident.

And then, for the first time, I was asked to bake something. It was to be either banana bread or cookies. Nothing new or unheard of—we had s pre-designed recipe. I just had to follow instructions. If it said to boil two cups of salt, well… you know. 

I wouldn’t boil two cups of salt.

But I was making chocolate chip and tahini cookies. 

This wasn’t my usual marinate-vegetables-and-shove-in-the-oven recipe. It wasn’t anything like the pumpkin and oats mixture I bake all the time. To put it simply, it wasn’t simple.

cookies in the making

However, on paper, the recipe was pretty straightforward. It had fewer steps than the banana bread, and even though I’d have chosen the bread to stuff my face in, the cookies seemed far less intimidating to make.

I read the instructions over and over just to make sure I didn’t forget the salt or the vanilla, the oil, or the milk. 

It was a vegan recipe, and only a few days ago, I’d seen the recipe’s author bake some cookies herself. So I had a reasonable idea of how they were supposed to look. I recalled awe-ing at how flawlessly the cookies had spread and how much people enjoyed chewing them.

It was a lot to live up to. And that terrified me. Even though it was just flour, baking soda, and salt for the dry and oil, tahini, milk, and sugars for the wet, I still felt an enormous pressure over my head as I measured the ingredients, battling with myself over the difference between a heaped and flattened cup.

The recipe suggested 15 cookies. And as I balled up the cookie dough, smiling to myself at how much it resembled the cookie doughs I’d seen on television, I realised I was making far too many—I’d made thirty small balls instead of 15 big ones. Anxious, but still proud of my mixing capabilities, I greased the trays, arranged the balls, and popped them into a waiting oven. 

freshly baked cookies

For the next fifteen minutes, I was thankfully too distracted to bite my nails and check in on the cookies every two minutes. When they came out, smaller than I expected, they were more like blobs of chocolate-topped brownish flour than flat disks of chewy goodness. 

My heart sank. Perhaps I’d sunk the cookies.

The first taste-tester said it was good. But he’s a nice guy. The second affirmed the first guy’s comment, adding that the cookies were crunchy and crumbly—which is good, if you like crumbly cookies.

They were both more than less than helpful. I still couldn’t tell if the cookies were any good. And I didn’t trust myself to eat any.

We sold out of cookies in a day.

Many people appreciated my cookies. And yet, as a novice baker and an incredibly-doubtful person, it’s hard to believe.

Perhaps it wasn’t so bad.

Perhaps I’m not such a terrible baker, after all.

Perhaps I could do more…