Enjoying nature on the run

The Nature Call: No need for headphones when outdoors

Two competitors in the Hawkeye 25/50K trail run at Lake McBride run through the water course, the outflow of Lake McBride into the Reservoir. (Tom Ward Photography)
Two competitors in the Hawkeye 25/50K trail run at Lake McBride run through the water course, the outflow of Lake McBride into the Reservoir. (Tom Ward Photography)

Editor’s note: John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School.

By John Hanson, community contributor

About five miles to go, my breathing was getting labored and my legs wanted to seize with cramps if I pushed it any harder.

Still, it was hard to be discouraged in such a lovely spot on a lovely day.

I ran the packed earth of the ravine bottom and noticed a solitary woman sitting along the trail halfway up the climb out. She had her blond hair in a single ponytail coming over her front shoulder. I supposed I noticed that detail because it reminded me of the style popular with so many Scandinavian skiers.

Nearing, I heard her call out “good job” and some other obligatory slogan of encouragement one hears at races. I called back as I passed that the birding was really good and I had just heard a Kinglet. She was nonplused. I didn’t bother to stop and explain.

Perhaps she thought I was hallucinating, that would have been a more plausible explanation than someone actually running this race and bird watching.

People run and bicycle outside with headphones on, I don’t get it. Fighting monotony indoors with tunes piped into your ears I get, but under the banner of heaven?

My foolish endeavor du jour was the Hawkeye 25/50K trail run around Lake McBride. About 300 intrepid souls milled about the starting area preparing to do battle with their own endurance. I also race to explore that universe that lies within us all; AC/DC or Beyonce would distract that journey.

I guess lots of people felt different.


As the race progressed, I was increasingly alone; no one in eyesight let alone earshot. I liked it that way. My eyes and mind found inspirational distraction in the sunny spring morning. As habit would have it, I started to catalog the birds I saw or heard.

The lure of new species was a draw forward, an attraction to overcome the resistance of gravity and fatigue: no down beats required to drive me on.

Multitudes of White Pelicans graced the water, you couldn’t miss them. But the Grackle skulking at the water’s edge on the northern arm was more special. He was a surprise sighting and confirmation that spring had commenced.

Footfalls continued, miles accumulated and my list grew: Mudhens, House Finches and Turkey Vultures to name a few. I passed a Cardinal perched at a bend in a transition from parkland to forest. His beats announced his presence before I saw him, though no visual confirmation was needed with that song.

I worry about ubiquitous earbud use. The pupils in my school seem to have them attached permanently. Many think it’s perfectly fine to engage a teacher in conversation while listening to music ... but I digress. Boorish behavior notwithstanding, my real concern is their hearing loss.

The high frequency “cii ci cisisi” call was faint but unmistakable — a Kinglet. I didn’t need to see to know and I wasn’t about to devote my meager energy reserves to double-check. My steps got a little lighter. I heard it again, “cii ci cisisi ...”

That marshmallow-sized bird pulled a smile out of me that was buried in my pain.

I have a relative, an outdoorsman without peer in my circle. He’s a senior-citizen but of such youthful spirit it makes me recheck my D.O.B. One day after a fruitless afternoon in a deer blind together, he turned and, apropos nothing, said he truly pities people who can’t enjoy being outside, just to be there without distraction or occupation. Or at least a long trail run to actually invite in nature rather than hitting the mute button.

Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.



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