Originally published in the Manchester Journal on April 13, 2018. 

Sometimes you just have to slog through the mud.

After 24 years of “spring” in Vermont, the weight of that lesson is finally starting to sink in. While I’ve never been the type to disdain winter, the transition has always troubled me. Getting outside despite erratic weather and fragile landscapes presents a mental, physical, and logistical challenge; and more often than not I find that I have transitions of my own to slog through.

Sleeping was my priority this morning, however, and I struggle to drag myself to the Rec Park after a day of mentally-draining work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to live in a community that boasts such an impressive facility, but I’ve always gravitated towards spaces more secluded and wild. As much as I yearn for the wilderness, though, I know better than to trudge through the trails during mud season: each footstep on the over-saturated earth risks compacting and eroding the soil, simultaneously harming the landscape and hampering the organizations that work to maintain it.

So today, I’ll run the park’s mile long loop as many times as I can before treating myself to a jaunt through the woods leading to Riley Rink — providing just enough time amongst the trees to preserve my sanity. Though the terrain is relatively flat and unobstructed, which should theoretically make for an easier effort, my brain begins to beg for mercy after only ten minutes.

You’re struggling. You’re bored. Why not just go home, have a cup of tea, and let this whole season just blow over?

My inner monologue fights me every step of the way, and the prospect of giving up grows more attractive as the minutes pass. Inexplicably, I manage to guilt my way into perseverance with an onslaught of self-deprecating sentiments designed to galvanize my inner-warrior.

Sometimes though, it feels as though this strategy only serves to empower my inner-critic. The habit bleeds into my non-athletic consciousness, I’ve noticed, and lately the urge to give up proves ubiquitous. The intensity that has driven me to succeed suddenly proves destructive without warning, like a shackled beast revolting against its own domestication.

Ambition can be a cruel master.

Despite the disparaging internal dialogue, or maybe because of it, I prod myself forward for another three loops. It’s days like this that make me wonder why I bother to try at all — I’m slow, hyper-conscious of how others may perceive me, and my stride betrays an awkwardness that proves pervasive. By the time I finally give in I’m mentally exhausted, though I continue on towards the treeline.

Here, I discover solitude though I’m only feet from the bustling landscape that overwhelmed me just moments ago. I feel uninhibited and introspective nestled within the trees, and my inner-critic bows in reverence to the natural beauty that I’ve stumbled upon. Here, I find perspective.

It’s difficult to self-destruct when the sun warms my skin through the branches, and the birds sing a melody that somehow sounds familiar. In nature, I remember how infinitesimal my place in this world is — and how beautiful it is to be a part of it. Suddenly, such ugly thoughts seem senseless in the grand scheme of things.

As much as I may resist it, it’s toiling through the mud — metaphorically and literally — that’s brought me here. And each year the voice of my inner-critic grows softer, as I emerge from the season stronger than I was before the struggle.


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