Sublime and the Coconutby Liam Kruger / Illustration by Sasan / 15.05.2013
A couple of nights ago, I went running in the woods behind Rhodes Memorial, misjudged the time, or the route, or both, and ended up getting back out of the woods about an hour after sunset. And I don’t know; I think maybe I met the sublime while I was up there.
I mean, this is a twofold gesture; first, trying to figure out what I’ve retained from an undergraduate career in English literature, where ‘the sublime’ was another argumentative trump card, like ‘post-structuralism’ or ‘the Other;’ second, trying to keep from smothering my brush-with-the-maybe-sublime with irony, which is now my only argumentative trump card.
I mean – I want to be clear here, I’m running in the woods, on the mountain, in the middle of the city; I’ve brought a friend along, because it’s the kind of route where you might want somebody around to get help if you trip up and shatter an ankle. We aren’t in an especially mountainous part of the world, or even an especially wooded one – and even so, we are in a wood, upon a mountain. We aren’t in the sticks; for the first couple of minutes we’re running on tar and we can hear the freeway, and somewhere nearby is the smell of creosote and damp cardboard. The sun is a thumb or two above the mountain’s peak, and mostly we’re quiet, getting used to running uphill, upmountain, and regretting our respective decisions to agree to do this.
When the road levels out a little, and cuts behind a line of pine-looking trees whose real names I don’t know, we start with the prepared conversations. A little breathless, maybe, but doing okay, he tells me about his boyfriend, I tells him about my parent’s seperation, he tells me about his unexpected half-brother, I tell him about this Danish girl I’m seeing, or wanting to be seeing, we agree that we should think about starting a podcast. The way these things usually go. By this point we’re off asphalt, past the monument with the giant statue of a racist industrialist, and up on scrambling paths made of quartz sand that cut back against themselves, either as punishment or as a funny joke or both.
We shut up for a little while on this part. The wind coming down the mountain is picking up, either because we’re on a more exposed bit of rock or because the sun’s going down. I don’t know nature. And I don’t really know where we’re going. I mean, I know the area, broadly; I know there are rare succulents growing in the area, and some animals, and possibly bandits. I know there are Historic Ruins marking the lives and deaths of some guys who did some things, Ozymandias-like, with additional marginalia from dudes willing to hike all the way up there with spraypaint.
We are, by this point, out of the woods, but only literally; there is mountain above us, the trees below us, down and beyond them the city, with its lights beginning to emerge.
There isn’t much more to this part. We keep going up, either out of perversity or one-up-manship or I don’t know, until we get to the point where the road tells us that we have to start descending again, because ascent requires things with hooks and chains and whatever it is people climb with. Ropes, probably.
Here the wind is at its strongest, rushing down like a tide; we stand on a grassy outcropping, looking over the parts of the city that we never really go to, and never really see, and shout the names of some guys we hate, in the hopes that maybe that’s how curses work. We hang around for a minute longer to see if one of us is going to get struck down by divine whatevers, but nothing happens, so we follow the narrow path along, and down. We don’t bother talking to one another; the wind is too strong.
Our silence is jarred, however, by the sudden, upsettingly out-of-place appearance of a four-wheeler van on a path we hadn’t known about; Park Rangers nod at us, remind us that they’ll be clearing the park soon. We thank them, and head on down, discussing that bar we hate out of habit. It’s getting darkish; the sun drops behind the mountain, and the mountain’s shadow extends far beyond the highway that brought us here.
Somewhere over the course of the next half-hour or so, it becomes apparent that we’re not on the road we think we’re on; we aren’t circling back around the woods the way we thought we would, hugging instead against the contours of rock around the edge of the mountain, winding into small, blind valleys and out again, alternately seeing the city or nothing at all.
At some point it gets dark. We laugh about this; about our poor life choices, about our simultaneous self-involvement and shocking disregard for personal safety. The road is uneven, and lined with chunks of rock; it is laughably easy to shatter something important here, even in the daytime. There is talk of vagabonds, quickly cut short.
We hear the van somewhere in the distance, catch what could be the glow of headlights, and we find ourselves speeding up; there is the vague awareness that if the van catches up with us, the game will be over. It is past the point of ‘getting dark;’ it is night, by this point, and the sky is overcast. We carry on running, scrambling in places but without losing our footing too much.
At some point we descend enough to re-enter the woods.
Understand, nothing happens in these woods; at the same time he and I stop running; at the same time, I can only assume, he and I realize that we are not hearing the wind, or the city, or what we would think of as ‘wood’ sounds; only our shallow breathing, and unsteady footsteps. In the darkest part of this route, we stop walking for a little while, to note how different this must be in the daylight, to note that this could be wholly absent int the daylight and we would not know it; we see the pale stump, or shadow, or rock, and we don’t speculate as to what it is.
We walk out of the copse and do not resume running for some little while, knowing that this would be inappropriate, like running in a church, or a stranger’s bedroom. I say something stupid, the white shape vanishes from our minds and we resume running.
We make it back to a road that leads to the parking lot more or less okay, more or less without incident; vague worries about snakes and some small cuts and bruises, but no real incidents.
This is not a night with incidents in it.
We walk along the road, running done with now, in the direction of his car. We hear a sound the we refuse to identify on the way, along darkened pavements that seem kind of besides the point, now. It identifies itself, shortly; getting back to the car, in the harshly-lit Rhodes Memorial parking lot, we see a guy playing the bagpipes. It’s about eight in the evening now, and this guy is standing in the middle of a parking lot, his convertible idling, playing the bagpipes in a wifebeater. And we don’t have anything to say to that
And I want so, so badly to be able to take this seriously; to not think ‘thanks, David Lynch,’ to not fold this into a funny anecdote to tell at the kinds of parties that allow for funny anecdotes. I want to hold this thing in my mouth and not have it dissolve and run down my throat and join the rest of the Things I Can Talk about – the parents, the dane, the Other. And I am actively failing in that with every word I put down right now. Failing, probably, to bring it to life in you, failing to keep from smothering it in me.
We grab dinner at a 24-hour Indian place before heading home; under the neon, fingers stained with naan, the glow of whatever happened disappears pretty quick. I don’t know who to blame for that. This huge, stupid thing that isn’t really a thing, that happened to me and a friend of mine is now, at best, a story on the internet, at worst something we don’t really talk about.
I’m sorry. I still go running there; sometimes I start running late on purpose. I can’t go too often, or else the place’ll become familiar. Still.
Come with me, sometime? Let me show you the place with the dark and the quiet and the pale shape in the distance; let me hear your voice change before and after seeing it. Come running with me. Let me show you.
*Illustration © Sasan