A cold rain fell from gray clouds when I set out for my run yesterday. It was 3:40 and I wanted to run a winding four-mile route, ending up at the gym at around 4:15 for a short swim.
The rain stirred my spirit and I wanted to run long and hard. I relish runs in bad weather. The worse the weather, the better the run. But my still-healing calf requests patience and an easy 10 to 9-minute-mile pace.
Pulling the brim of my white Nike cap down low, I ran up the sidewalk along Leask Lane. I crossed the street twice to continue following the sidewalk, which started and ended without reason on either side of the road.
I hadn't gone a quarter mile when I saw the hawk. Instantly recognizable with its large wingspan and gliding flight, it swooped down through the drizzle and rain and out of sight just ahead of me. I ran quickly to where it had ended up and searched the sky above me.
It was perched atop a street light, head cocked towards me, one brilliant dark eye on me. It had seen me long before I saw it. Content that I was nothing of concern, it shook the rain from its feathers and groomed its white belly with that hooked beak. After a minute, sleeker and satisfied, it focused on the ground before it. I made a kissing noise at it. It ignored me.
I had to go. I had to meet my husband at the gym. Casting one last look at the hawk, I resumed my run. I ran across the intersecting side street by the street light. And there, right in the middle of the unmarked right lane of the road, was a small toad.
I applied the brakes and turned back to the toad. I reached for the toad. A middle-aged guy in a Lexus SUV pulled up to the intersection in the other lane, pretending to not notice the strange behavior of the runner on the road in the rain.
I picked the toad up and looked at it. It was small and wet and cold and did not protest. Since it was not fat, I guessed it to be a male. I half expected it to reward me with a sudden stream of alarmed-toad pee but it did not. I knew that if I left it on the road, it would either become hawk food or roadkill.
Should I put him in the grass by the curb? In the bushes a dozen feet up the sidewalk? I knew that none of these options were good. The road was too close. My run was going to take me to the Danada trail head and beyond. Perfect; I could drop the toad off at the big pond there. Perfect.
The toad fit snugly into my right hand. With my keys in my left, I ran carefully. I did not want to jar the toad around and force him to bail out of my hand as I ran. Yet I did not want to squeeze him so tight that he was uncomfortable. To further complicate things, I knew that running with an altered gait could do plenty of damage to my healing calf.
So for the next mile, I had the not-so-easy of task of running with unaltered biomechanics for the sake of my legs while, in one hand, carrying a toad ever so delicately and smoothly, as if it were a ripe peach that was not to be dropped at any cost.
The rain continued. I had been a bit cold before encountering the hawk but now I was warm with the energy of an important mission.
At last I passed the barn and ran up the limestone trail head. I ran down the gentle slope to the left and searched for a clearing to the pond. As soon as I found one, I slowed to a walk and headed for the edge of the pond. I placed the toad on the pebbled edge of the water. I gave him a little nudge. He did not move. I stroked the toad along the side of his head with my index finger and he leaned into the pressure. I stroked the other side and he shifted his weight and leaned into that side. I smiled.
I turned to leave but had a thought. It was cold and wet and the toad was exposed there on the pebbles. I picked him up again and he croaked. I did not hear it but I saw the vocal sac blow out red and round and my hand vibrated with the croak.
How amazing, I thought. I have handled countless toads, particularly as a child, but never had one croak and sing in my hands.
I set the toad in a nest of grass on the bank of the pond. He croaked again, and again. I hoped he would find a mate there. Finally remembering that I had to be at the gym soon, I turned and left.
Today is Day 1 of Week 1 of my 18-week marathon training. I am generally only superstitious when it comes to horse racing but I hope the toad brings me good luck during my marathon training.