July 13, 2011

Close Encounters of the Crittered Kind

Since the weather got warm freaking hot and I started to run outside, I've had several chances to get up close and personal with a few species of the animal kingdom. I run mostly through neighborhoods and down residential streets, so I'm constantly dodging squirrels and circling around dog walkers. I am definitely an animal lover, so typically I don't mind these encounters, but a few run-ins recently have been taking this a little far....
The most common confrontations involve a dog, a long driveway, and a surprisingly far-reaching invisible fence. At least once a week, I look up from the road to glimpse at least 50 pounds of fast, barky fur barreling towards me, looking for all the world like they're coming in for a tackle. Thankfully, every single time they've had the good sense to stop just millimeters from the road, knowing exactly how far they can skid without getting zapped. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't freak out and sprint across the street the first few times this happened, but now I barely blink. After several weeks of this, I know where the doberman mix lives, and I know when his parents let him outside in the mornings.
Being chased by a dog (who can't catch me) is one thing, but a few weeks ago I was practically run down by something I really wasn't expecting: a bird. When running around the little pond in my normal running spot one morning, I must have gotten a little too close to one mama's nest of chicks. I wasn't exactly paying attention, but all of a sudden I heard a squawk and heard the beat of wings just inches from my head. Looking behind me, I saw a mass of black feathers quite literally zeroing in on my head. I almost wish I'd had the presence of mind to glance at my garmin during the next minute or so, because I. took. off. Picturing being carried off by my hair or getting my eyes pecked out, I booked it down the trail and was fully prepared to dive into the filthy water while this bird followed me, cawing angrily, for almost a quarter of a mile. Finally the path took me under some trees and the kamikaze crow decided to give up her chase. Needless to say, I haven't run around the pond since.
My most exciting (and most painful) encounter with the animal realm, however, came last week as I finished up an otherwise excellent afternoon run. I was about a mile from my car when I ducked under a tree and a bug zipped right into my mouth. Before I could even think to spit it out, I felt a searing flash of pain and realized that whatever it was had either stung or bitten me... on my tongue. I can't claim to be an expert on pain thresholds, but I think I can safely say that this one was equivalent to an elephant stepping gingerly on your big toe... and then lifting its other three legs off the ground. Thankfully there was no one around to hear my squeaks or witness the desperate scraping of my tongue that ensued. I've never had an allergic reaction to a bee, but I was just waiting for my tongue to balloon and render me something like this:
Thankfully, though, my tongue remained a normal size (and my mouth didn't shrink), so I was able to finish my run with no complications beyond a little bit of lingering pain and a truly awful taste in my mouth.
I truly love being able to run outside, enjoy the scenery and the sun, and actually feel like I've traveled the miles I log. As my body has adjusted to hills, heat, and a truly astounding amount of sweat, I've found that most mornings, my legs crave a stretch of road over the neverending band of a treadmill. I suppose that the animal interactions are par for the course, and I should probably be thankful I've never run across anything more dangerous. I was thrilled find myself less than 25 feet from a huge heron on a cool morning a few months ago, I get a good chuckle from the crazy geese I pass each day, and I've certainly spied some adorable puppies, so really I suppose it's worth a little tongue pain to have the freedom to enjoy nature. Let me tell you, though: the first time one of those dogs develops a tolerance for electric shock, I'll be finding a new route every morning.



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