The killdeer sound the alarm at the end of the woods, where the open fields begin.
Their squawking follows me for more than a mile: Over the railroad tracks, past the home that recently burned and has since been bulldozed, past goats and horses and pickup trucks on one side of the road, manicured lakes and lawns on the other.
It's not the same bird, though each sentry looks the same, skittering along on those speed-walking chopsticks that pass for legs. They hand off their distress call like a relay baton, the same nervous fretting over and over.
I wish I could reassure them, so they didn't feel the need to go through this pointless routine: Attention, birds! This harmless jogger is not going to trample on your nests or snatch your babies – though why you feel compelled to build your homes on the ground makes absolutely no sense to me.
Oh, and I know you're faking that injury, by the way. That “hurt wing” you're making such a big production over, in your attempt to lead this would-be predator away from the nest? We both know that if I suddenly leaped the ditch into that tall grass along the field – which would never happen, because I always assume there's a snake lying in wait if I venture off the pavement – that wing wouldn't stop you from taking flight.
But I can't calm the killdeer, any more than I can adjust the volume of their cries. All I can do is try to tune them out, which isn't easy when you're running without earbuds.
Maybe what I could do, though, is outsource my own nervous fretting to them.
Take this run, for instance. Jogging is supposed to activate stress-busting endorphins. But for me, at least, there's always a long list of aggravations to sort through that first mile or two before I get to that fabled “runner's high.”
All the irritations that have cropped up since yesterday's run compete for attention, along with any underlying uncertainties about this particular workout. Am I starting out too late in the morning, given that I haven't really adjusted yet to midday heat? If I have to slow down – or even worse, walk a bit – will I get back in time to pick the kids up from their various activities?
You killdeer sound like the inside of my head sometimes, all that silly yammering. I constantly worry about my offspring, too. They're basically doing fine, occasionally soaring and sometimes stumbling, as kids do in the process of growing up. Still, like you, I can't help agonizing every time I perceive a potential threat, no matter how remote.
There's no sense in both of us getting caught up in all this tension, though, right? Since you guys are already on red alert, I think I'll let you do today's fretting for me. I'll check back in on the way home, when I'm likely to be feeling both more tired and more at peace with the world.
In the meantime, I'm just going to enjoy my run, OK?