Last time I lived in a cold climate, I got fat. Not obese, but about all the fat a tall frame like mine, genetically prone to be slender, can take. The former expansion project in Moscow, Idaho was aided by frequent pints of Hefeweizen and other extra curricular activities common to university towns.
Now, my issue is the cold and a proclivity for snacking. I love to exercise. If I don’t get enough exercise, I act strangely. Inappropriately. Like someone who doesn’t understand the implied social protocols. I will do leg lifts at a cafe without concern for others. Yoga stretches while waiting for the tram. My husband is used to this quirk and when he sees me acting like this, he shakes his head. Not entirely from embarrassment, but from the knowledge of what is to come. Hyper. Irritable. My body needs exercise and there’s no place to go.
Yet, if you are from Holland, you are shaking your head right now. What do you mean, no place to go? You can cycle just about anywhere. You live in the Hague and there are jogging paths all over the Haagse Bos (the Hague forest) and Clingendael. Cold? Get over it. Get your butt moving!
I reluctantly changed into jogging clothes and headed out the door. I chose the quaint, yet expansive park called Clingendael, a slice of Dutch countryside imported into the middle of the city. A small boerderij with sheep, goats and a bee farm sits near the entrance. Old country houses with thatched roofs throughout the park expand the countryside theme, and a series of canals wind their way through the forest and open spaces. A maze of walking trails head off in multiple directions making the park particularly intriguing to runners.
At first it seemed I had the park to myself. An eerie fog settled in as I ran down a secluded trail for 10 minutes or so before crossing a canal over a little white bridge. There I saw an older man standing at the edge of a canal in knee high rain boots, two chestnut-brown water dogs coming out of the canal next to him. I ran through an area with tall hedges before coming back into an open area full of tall, naked trees, their dampened leaves lining the forest floor. A perfect setting for a British murder mystery. As this image wiled its way into my thoughts, I began to run a little faster. Finally, I got into a groove and looped my way through the forest, past middle-aged men walking their dogs.
As I settled into a pace, I began to think of a group of friends. Some who know each other, some who don’t; Barry Miller, Andrew Duncan, Delilah Poupore, Linda Croyle, Jenni Hopson, Yolanda van Wingerden and others I have run with throughout the years. As the cold air filled my lungs, I pictured these friends running alongside me. Sometimes in silence, sometimes chatting.
Many things can jog our memories about our friends, but it seems that those who have accompanied us on different physical pursuits–running, yoga, backpacking, skiing–are bound to us in a special way. Our interactions are not solely cerebral, like open ended conversations at a dinner party, but physical. Our conversations become, perhaps, more kinetic as our mind and body work in tandem, thus placing our interactions firmly in our minds.
I have experienced the same with yoga friends, Sandi Hebshi, Delilah, Antara, Kim Cantrell, as we contort ourselves into different positions, perspiring together, coming more fully into our bodies. Perhaps that is the connection. Through exercise, you are grounded, present and alive in yourself, creating a much better space in which to bond with others.
Thus, in this new land, I must also seek these more physical relationships, as studies show we are more prone to do regular exercise if it also brings companionship.