I would like to salute
The ashes of American flags
And all the fallen leaves
Filling up shopping bags
— the prophet tweedy
It’s not my country. It’s theirs.
I’m running on the dirt road behind the community college. I’m hoping to stretch a decent 5k course out of the little dirt paths used by the farmers to keep up with the crops. Flat and fast and soft. A good place to work on getting a little quicker at some point, or a nice place to die, whichever comes first.
It’s sort of an odd place to run, because it’s on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. The land is sacred, and I worry whether I’m disrespectful by using it for such a trivial task. It’s beautiful; the endless vista ended only by the mountains in the distance. The farmer on the left of the path has just irrigated his crop, and a hundred ducks are having a party in the shallow water. I don’t think I’ve ever seen ducks in a crop before. I think back to the coyote we saw in this spot a way back. He must be excited.
Is it OK to spit on the land? To listen to Soundgarden? To be wearing a shirt with an elf saying “Bite me”? I am very respectful that it’s their land, the last little bit that we the intruders didn’t steal from them on the way to electing a crazy president who takes their sacred areas back to appease big business.
It’s a pleasant outing. Mid-60s, blue skies. My body still won’t work, but we go through the motions. Maybe sheer repetition will bring things around eventually. It’s worth a shot. There’s not much going on today. There’s a remote-control airplane flying spot at the half-mile point, and a guy is flying a large yellow plane over me. Barrel loops, little spins, dives. I wonder what the odds are of it plunging and smacking me in the head. Thinking it would make an excellent news story (“elderly jogger killed by rabid plane”), I shuffle along undeterred.
And then the scary part. I hit the intersection with the paved road and turn right. It’s still a dirt path paralleling the little crop canal, but there are a couple of houses across the street. Will they have dogs? Dogs are my big fear out here. It’s flat farm land. There’s no escape route if you get in trouble. And we’ve seen packs of wild dogs that look like they mean business. I kill the music, snatch up a medium-size rock, and go on my way.
Running on the rez has always filled me with mixed emotions. It’s so isolated, so simple. The casinos have helped them, but it doesn’t make up for the centuries of wrongdoing. If a dog attacks me, it’s my fault. The dog lives here. I’m just using their dirt roads because my knees are old. I deserve to be eaten. And smacking a dog with a rock for doing his job would bring untold bad karma. I prefer my karma being told, thank you very much.
Sure enough, on the way back, two dogs come out into the yard across the street just before the turn on the way back and start bouncing off the chain-link fence. They look like they’re part wolf, the kind of dog you put in your yard to show would-be intruders you mean business. I watch warily, hoping the gate is closed and they’re just doing their job, not feeling the urge to clear the fence and shred my elf shirt. Note to self: Wear crappy shirt when running in the vicinity of wolves.
But they are content to just bark and then head back to the shade. I make the turn, dodge the yellow plane again and do half of a lap on the track before calling it quits. I sit on the bench on the back straight of the track and give thanks to the mountain gods for allowing me to share their land. It’s not my country. It’s theirs.
It’s an odd day. Congress is passing the budget and I’m feeling powerless. It’s good to have a reminder that feeling powerless is all relative. The tribe has been feeling it for a long time. Maybe it’s good to join them now and then.
I didn’t get killed by dogs or yellow planes. I guess that’s about all you can ask of life these days. I salute the ashes of American flags. On to the next run …