I had the occasion to run today in Connecticut, and I spent the hour-long drive up the Merritt to the panhandle trying unsuccessfully to remember the last time I’d been in Connecticut for an actual visit. Long Islanders (I’m one by birth) spend little time thinking about Connecticut. We know it as the state of Yale University, Joe Lieberman, and the setting for Mystic Pizza. Connecticut is the fuzzy landmass on the other side of the Long Island Sound. Surely, if Connecticut were worthy of our consideration, the sound would have been named after Connecticut, and not Long Island, right? (Long Islanders are much more interested in New Jersey, the state that once had the temerity to suggest Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty should be within its boundaries, and to sneak off with our football teams.) When I think of Connecticut, I think of suburban soccer moms ensconced in houses surrounded by stone walls, and I think of pumped-up bond traders and hedge-fund managers shoving their way into Greenwich. I think of formidable women clutching G&T’s and laughing without ever opening their mouths. To be fair, I also conjur up acres of rolling hills and woods, farmhouses and tidy colonials, winding roads and charming town centers. Grandma Moses-style countrysides, barking dogs, American Revolution history, the best expressions of New England propriety.
When I finally arrived at the start of our planned route and stepped out of the car, my first impression was a smell. I could have sworn the subtlest scent of homemade donuts, warm maple syrup, and apple cider gently wafted at me from across the pastures. I didn’t believe it, so I stilled myself and breathed deeply. Yes, it was there. I looked around. Wide pastures, low stone walls, an occasional stand of trees that would normally be leafy, barns and stables–we were in Connecticut horse country (if such a thing exists), I supposed. Or is the whole state horse country? I didn’t know, feeling very much a city girl outside her natural habitat. And so we were off, in an endearing chorus of chirps and beeps as everyone clicked on their watches. (I didn’t have to tell little G we weren’t in Sunnyside anymore, his GPS already had it sorted. )
The sky stretched across before us, pale blue and cloudless. The sun shone with the wan joy of a family matriarch. With no breeze to stir the trees, they stood patiently waiting for us to run by, their sole amusement, sometimes all in a line on either side of the back roads, other times in crowds that pushed back from property lines and half-hid gabled houses. It was cold, make no mistake, but it wasn’t anything a hat and gloves couldn’t handily render innocuous.
We ran on, up some steep hills, around some gentle turns. Something about this landscape hushed me, removed my usually chatty mood on these social runs and replaced it with something more pensive and interior. We ran past couples out with their dogs for a Sunday constitutional, a trio of horseback riders (each kitted out in a wine-red jacket), and made way for what seemed like a hundred SUVs. Despite this tranquil setting, it was clear that I was laboring, because I was asked no fewer than five times, “Are you feeling okay?” How mortifying, done in by five miles of 9:30’s, in front of runners who have seen me stronger.
Before I knew it, we were back at the cluster of cars, and I was sorry to see the workout end. Even though my right leg was tired, and my left shin achy, a part of me wanted to keep going, wanted another loop to see if the hills would feel easier now that I knew their swells, and if the trees would seem friendlier now that I’d already jogged past once, with appreciation. What would they tell me, without me asking a question, as they hunkered down into their winter freeze, if I ran lightly through?