Present Perfect

The correct English usage of “present perfect” is to describe an action that has happened at an unspecified time in the past. I can say, “I have run the Avenue of the Giants old highway many times with friends.”

I spent the weekend in Humboldt County to promote my recently published book (“First Friends: Love, Loss and Life in Humboldt County”) and to run the Avenue of the Giants 10-k race, coincidental to the book-signing event. Perfect, in fact, in the present iteration of my life: books, running, and friends.

Life imitates art, I suppose, even for a small memoir written about a time in my life early in my first marriage and career as an attorney. I lived in Humboldt County, 250 miles north of San Francisco, an area shrouded by rain, fog and chill much of the year, which enables the mysterious, magnificent and grand redwood trees to flourish while also contributing to loneliness, economic hardship and isolation.

It was a time of contradictions, the discovery of running and deep friendships, the shaping of my professional career, the disintegration of my marriage, the hardship of becoming a single mother within weeks of becoming a mother, the unimaginable love for my young son, the death of a dear friend, and the unveiling of strength of character that I didn’t realize existed deep inside me.

With some trepidation and many false starts, I chronicled this story of my almost seven years in northern California, engaged a colleague to help edit the story, commissioned my younger son’s girlfriend to design a cover, and published the book! The harder part, in some respects, is now marketing a self-published book in a genre ripe with celebrity memoirs, biographies of, and autobiographies by, important people, and the disdain, by some, of this category of writing. Still, it was a story that I wanted to tell, to celebrate my friends, to show others that despite adversity, we are stronger often than we give ourselves credit, and to reclaim my emotional tie to the beauty and harshness (one really doesn’t go without the other) of that place I called home for my formative adult years.

One of those long-ago, and still present, friends now owns a rare and used book store in Eureka and invited me to do a book signing on the first Saturday in May’s Arts Alive! I agreed, nervous but excited to head north, see friends, maybe sell a few books. As I made travel plans, I learned that the venerable Avenue of the Giants marathon, the race for which I helped many friends train during my time in Humboldt County, was the same weekend, and now included a 10-k and half marathon distance. A five-year hamstring injury continues to compromise my running dreams but I am training, with fingers crossed, for a half marathon. The 10-k race would fit in well with the training program.

I drove north from Sonoma County mid-Saturday morning, quickly immersing myself in memories of so many drives north, after while my son, then two years old, and I moved to Sacramento, almost 300 miles away. Later, after my son became an adult himself, I continued the drive north to visit dear friends. But it’d been four years since the last journey, a sad one, to attend the funeral of the woman who was like a grandmother to my son and best friend to me. Other memories, intense, funny, singular, filled my head, as I made my way closer and closer to Eureka.

The spring sunshine turned to the proverbial fog as I drove past Fortuna, my first home, and on to Eureka. The area continues its slow economic decline, the shells of former shopping malls hulking by optimistic motels, capturing the travelers on their way north or south along the northern California coast. I remembered then another reason to leave this place: cold and chill in the months that should be hot, swimming weather. For a girl who grew up in sunny southeastern Washington, I never entirely embraced wearing sweaters on cool summer nights.

I was nervous for the book signing, not having done one before, realizing the book was not a best seller or a local history book (of which there seem to be many) or a manual about the continued-burgeoning marijuana culture. Still, Jack was kind enough to have several of my books lying on a huge walnut table surrounded by two leather chairs, ready for potential buyers. I had three hours and a modest goal to sell a few books while people wandered in and out of the lovely, Victorian-building bookstore. No guarantees, maybe a few former friends would wander into the store, maybe a few readers curious about the topic would inquire about the story, maybe someone would take pity on the middle-aged woman sitting behind the big desk — and buy a book. After several hours of sitting and wandering, chatting with several regulars, and great conversation with Jack, it was evident that the buyers were going to be very small in number. I packed my bag, hugged my friend, and returned to the motel. I was disappointed, but still, another experience to add to the book writing/publishing/marketing bag of mine.

Sunday I woke early to drive down to Dyersville, the staging area and starting point for the three runs. I was early, as usual, but reviled in the drive south among the trees, so integral to my life then and even today — one friend sent me a book of photographs of the oldest trees in the world, recently. She understands how comforting and drawn I am to them. My running is certainly not what it was during the time of my book as my chronic injuries plague me, almost daily. Yet, I strive to run through the pain and although at one time in my life I wouldn’t even lace up my running shoes to go five miles, today a 10-k race (6.2miles) causes me anxiety but also excitement. My husband and I have run in races with thirty or forty or even fifty thousand runners, so the not quite 500-participant Avenue of the Giants 10-k was extremely small in comparison. But the course is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. The quiet of runners among the stately redwood trees and lush (although not so lush as usual as a result of the long drought) ferns was inspiring, each of us in our own world of nature and physical exertion. My head was flooded with memories of so many miles run along the same road with Larry and Terry, Lori, Gary and Jill. We ran and talked and solved the world’s problems, blending our lives for those hours each week when we laced up our shoes, ran out the door, and embraced, at the time, the nascent world of long-distance running. Today it was just me, running alongside strangers; but each step reminded me of them.

The present was perfect, while the past and present merged together; the future, not yet knowable, continues to beckon me to run, to write, and to gather friends, a perfect combination.


Originally published at www.paburgess.com.

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