Feng Yuan

“Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness…”

I wish I’d remembered to bring my camera I think to myself while looking out the right side car window, trying and failing to take pictures of the big hills as we drive up the slope. Upon our arrival I look out over the roof of the restaurant below, at the row of tall palm trees across the valley and the mountains beyond. With black ink I draw a pine tree as we wait for everyone to arrive. Darks to lights, build the work up all at once…

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From the grassy parking area we go, down a nicely paved road. So simple, so easy, and I look forward to a pleasant nine kilometers of peaceful jogging. By the same logic, I wonder if the entire run will be downhill.

Down we go through the trees, and soon it becomes so steep that we have to carefully tread down the dirt path to avoid falling. We hop on rocks, and our first casualties begin. Rocks fall, people slip, branches fail to offer the support they tantalizingly advertise. There are few opportunities to look around, I have to keep my head down and watch my steps. Up and down the rocks and dirt and grass we carefully step, through the prime-season orchards of the treacherous hillsides. For a brief moment I’m free of the maneuvering and I sprint along a smooth stone pathway that leads yet again into chaos.

This time we skip from rock to rock over the water through a wide tunnel-like passageway, and soon there’s no choice but to wade through the putrid brown water in order to climb up onto a ledge and move to the next set of stones. Before long my socks, shoes, and shorts are soaked. I keep hopping on the gray rocks. Some are reliable, and others turn over once you put your weight on them. It’s a guessing game. At this point I realize how fortunate it is that my camera is safe and sound in my desk drawer.

Finally at the end of the tunnel is an area of grass that affords a brief view of the mountain from below, and then over to a small shack where a farmer is watering the nearby trees. The trees are small and I have to duck to pass through. I get up to the street and run along to the hillside, where the next phase takes us up a steep winding trail by a few houses and a group of dogs who bark at passersby before fleeing.

Soon I get to a fence-gate, and I can see the other side. The trail leads down to the left of the gate, but I want to take a shortcut. So, rather than doing the obvious thing and climbing over the fence, I decide to climb up to the left through the thorned vegetation up to the right, getting scratches all over my shoulders, arms, and legs. But I’m able to save some time and run over to the beer check. The beer check is set up on the side of the empty road, overlooking the valley and in view of the nearby mountains. One energy drink consumption later I press on, through some forgiving paved roads for the second half of the run.

Then it’s through an orchard of short trees, and a small beige dog runs alongside me. I hope I’m not leading the dog in the wrong direction I think to myself, and when we get to the side of a small wire-littered cliff that zigzags down, it eventually occurs to me that it’s I who should be following the dog. It’s picked up the scent, and it can probably spot the white arrows more effectively than I can. Down we go by some more small houses and Taiwanese people going about their Saturday. I keep running alongside the dog, up one last hill and finally back to the beginning and the end.

One hour, thirteen minutes and forty-eight seconds of adventuring now complete, I need a shower. In just my Fairfield University crew spandex, I take my turn with the hose and drench myself in cold water, and then walk back to the meeting place to consume a peanut butter sandwich, a banana, snickers, chips, water, and, of course, Taiwan Beer.

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On these runs thus far I haven’t gotten many chances to explore the environment just for the sake of the experiencing it. When I play video games, I like to slowly make my way through the environment so I can appreciate the design, and the artist’s brain has begun to make me do the same with new places in real life.

A couple years ago, I was toying with the idea of doing drawings and sculptures intended to blur the line between “artificial” and “natural” to demonstrate that things which are man-made, like buildings, are essentially no different from natural formations. The fact that skyscrapers, ships, tunnels, highways, computers, cars, airplanes, space shuttles, cellphones, nuclear warheads, and robots occur by a seemingly more complex process than erosion, tides, the seasons, snowfall, droughts, the wind, tornadoes or volcanic eruptions, does not make one more or less ‘natural’ than the other. They all grow, they all evolve, appear and then disintegrate back in the ever-fluctuating material realm.

I took a few moments on the run, not to think, but to just look at the tall trees on the mountain, as though examining them for long enough would absorb them into my spirit. But it doesn’t stick, and the task in front of me conflicts with that vague sense of wonder. I think running has a way of turning vague, distinctly human instincts into powerful forces. Ideas that would never otherwise have taken shape play and replay in the mind, especially during those surges of energy where you run up, up, up, to the top of the hill.

“…To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.”

-T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Burnt Norton, Part II

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