On the ranch

West
West

This is the view from my run yesterday. Out for 24 minutes, towards Government Point; back in a determined, if somewhat labored, 22. I can guess, but I don't know how far I ran, which is a new experience. In Oxford, or any other city, I can look my route up on Google maps after, calculate exact distances; here it's not possible - this is just a stretch of sand on the California coast. There aren't even any obvious landmarks, until you get to the point itself. I didn't get all the way to the point; I turned back near a craggy line of rocks that looked pretty similar to another craggy line of rocks up ahead and a few craggy lines of rocks I'd already passed. I want to say it was liberating running like this, but actually I found myself obsessing about it, wanting to know precisely how far I'd gone (this is a bad habit I've gotten into - not quite Quantified Self-levels of tracking, but recording how far I swim, making sure I research exactly how far I run). I think next time I might use an app.

It was also hot! It hadn't occurred to me, packing late at night with a winter fog resting over Oxford and temperatures unseasonably warm but still uncomfortably cold after dark, that I would want to run in anything other than leggings, with tall socks underneath to keep my calves warm. But now, in those same leggings (with short socks, luckily), and a heavy grey Emerson Athletics t-shirt from my brief stint as a volleyball player in college, I was way too hot. I'd borrowed a pair of lightweight sunglasses, at least, but as I ran further and further away from the small cluster of cars and surfers, as if heading out into the desert, I became sweatier and hotter and increasingly uncomfortable. In contrast, the ocean, when, after the run, I plunged in, was so cold it felt like it had only recently been solid ice.

On the other hand, this was a very pleasant way to spend some time. I headed west, based on the logic that I'd see fewer people if I went that way, and it's true, I saw not a soul, except for a couple of surfers hanging around a particular wave, and one boat heading up towards Cojo, but they may as well have been figments of my imagination. It was a funny change from the last run I'd taken - Oxford, at about 6 o'clock on Saturday evening, the city seeming to seethe with pedestrians, all of them walking seven abreast or staring down at their phones, oblivious to their surroundings.

***

Today I drove down to Goleta and went for a swim in the pool. The water was cold. "What does it feel like to you? 75?" the woman getting into the lane next to mine said. I didn't know. She pulled on a second cap. "Well," she said, "we'll just have to see what we can do." It was cold, but it wasn't uncomfortably cold, or maybe I'm just not used to swimming outside, maybe I was too distracted by the novelty of the situation. I slid into the lane with the most sunlight for the final 500 meters, so I would have pretty patterns to look at on the bottom of the pool and warmth on my back.

***

Now, post-sunset, I'm having a pre-dinner beer at the kitchen table, with Django Reinhardt playing in the background (a change from Friday night's soundtrack - "how did we come to be listening to Nirvana at dinner?" said my mother; "because I put the 90s grunge playlist on," said my father). I'm writing mostly to avoid reading: I don't want The Goldfinch to end quite yet. When it gets dark here it gets very dark, and the innocent rustling of wind in the macadamia trees sounds potentially threatening, because unknown, wild things happen after the late fades. But I guess that's one of the nice things about being here, that element of the unknown, even when it's familiar. And really, what difference does it make, to me or anyone else, to know the exact length of an impulsive Saturday afternoon run? There are other ways of measuring.