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Exercise Health

Howl!

Moonlight Moosehead Lake
Full moon over Moosehead Lake, Maine, U.S.A. 1991

For the first time in almost two years the strength in my body broke through the accumulation of inactivity and slow muscles. For four weeks now I’ve been keeping up a regular succession of exercise, in part to prepare myself for less encumbered mountain walking this summer, but also to take control of my diabetes and to just plain feel good about myself. With all the heavy events and responsibilities of the last two years, turning 41, then 42, and now 43, seemed to weigh down upon my sense of vitality, as if all the voices had pummeled me into submission and I was about to join the flocks of flabby-midriffed housebounders. So many people my age seem to have given up. They want life easy and handed to them on a plate. They feel they have earned the right to rest and atrophy.

But I miss the mountains. I miss swinging my legs and feeling the air fill my lungs and my legs propelling me along the ridges. And I miss waking with a jump out of bed. I feel that piece by piece the elation at being alive is blowing away on some temporal wind, like dandelion seeds. That’s not how I want to grow older. I don’t want to succumb to cynical newspapers, closed curtains, and packages of potato chips. The engine that drives me… that drives us all… yearns for hope springing eternal. Again and again.

So I’ve embraced this physical promise of reawakening the muscles, bones, lungs, and eyes, talking myself into rhythms, tweaking a defiance against gravity, pushing and pulling at the immovable. It is a kind of dance, and the more often I reincarnate this resistance against entropy the more the movement reinforces itself and my body awakens. It is just sleep that incapacitates us.

Tending my core with Pilates workouts, yanking gravity with weights, bending branches with stretches and calisthenics, and touring my neighborhood with long loping runs and walks, all leave a feeling of occupancy, of claiming my place in space.

The effort has begun to pay off. This afternoon the weights lifted with less pull. My head inched closer to my knee. I breached the pull up bar five extra times. And most of all the run felt like bouncing, allowing me to spend more time acknowledging the glint of sunlight on the river’s water than on the crashing of my feet.

On the way back to my apartment I passed a house where a huge German Shepherd occupied a metal cage (Japanese have a bad habit of buying dogs too big for their tiny homes and often leaving them locked up in cages). Right as I paced by, the nearby kindergarten’s 5:45 chime went off, a loud, canned version of Big Ben’s bells. At the same moment the German Shepherd began to howl, sounding for all the world like a wolf. I stopped and watched him, his muzzle raised to the air, eyes shut, lips pursed, and hooting at the sky. With my rediscovered muscles bursting with energy I wanted to join in, to call to the horizon and regain paradise, the pack rolling over the hills and taking me away. Something was singing in me and I wasn’t alone.

As if a silent start gun had gone off my legs resumed their walk home. This is just the beginning. The cage will melt away, and I will heed the calling of the wild.