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Sadness for No Reason

Updated: Feb 16, 2019

Sadness for no reason is how Thomas McGuane put it in Nobody's Angel. McGuane (b. 1939) was one of the young writers who generated income penning articles on the outdoors for Sports Illustrated while breaking in as novelists in the late 1960s and early '70s (The Sporting Club, The Bushwhacked Piano, Ninety-Two in the Shade). His friend Jim Harrison (1937–2016) was another. If I remember correctly, it was McGuane who convinced Harrison that he could make money writing screenplays in Hollywood, as McGuane had done (Rancho Deluxe, The Missouri Breaks, Tom Horn, 92 in the Shade). McGuane is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Flyfishing Hall of Fame.

Ah, but I digress. McGuane came to mind Monday when I was hit with a bout of sadness for no reason. Odd that it should strike on a third successive glorious day that was almost enough to offer false hope that spring might be upon us in earnest. Maybe not so odd. These things tend to be inexplicable. Like the weather this time of year. Those of us who have dwelled in our fair city for a spell revel in the lovely springlike days when they come knowing full well that the rain and damp chill will settle back in soon enough and sometimes linger until the Fourth of July.

Speaking of the Fourth of July, do you think that on the next occasion that would call for the presidential anthem "Hail to the Chief" maybe the band should strike up "Stormy Weather" instead? Ah, but I digress again.

The day commenced as most days do. I rose at 6 or thereabouts and sat for fifteen minutes of meditation practice. After that I turned the radio on to NPR, made a run through the online news sites, and ate a bowl of bran flakes. This was followed by the morning coffee while reading a collection of editorials and columns written by Albert Camus for Combat, the French Resistance newspaper where he served as editor in chief and editorial writer between 1944 and 1947. More and more I think Camus offers a model for engagement, integrity, and conscience that might serve us well in this time of American crisis, a theme to which I hope to return in the days and weeks to come.

As the morning progressed I found myself without energy or motivation. Focus and concentration were a challenge. Things looked up briefly when I set out for a run at 9:15. It was a joy to break out shorts and the Tulsa Runner cap after months of tights, mittens, and winter headgear. Runs in the cold and rain are small price to pay for the pleasure that comes with running on days such as this.

I took my usual route south on 34th to Clinton, then west along the path by the MAX tracks to the Tillikum bridge and across the river. The Monday routine calls for me to cross back over the river at the Hawthorne Bridge and make my way home in a loop that maps out to seven miles. It was such a beautiful morning that I considered tacking on a couple of miles by continuing north to the Steel Bridge before crossing back over to the Eastbank Esplanade until massive clouds of smoke in the sky to the northeast gave me pause. The smoke spewed from some indeterminable location in northeast Portland. Wind carried it north of the Steel Bridge and across the river, but it was hard to judge just how far north of the bridge it was blown. In an uncharacteristic display of prudence to steer clear of inhaling gunk if it could be avoided, I ran north only as far as the Morrison Bridge before doubling back to Hawthorne.

It turned out the fire was at a wrecking yard on NE Killingsworth at 75th, way north of anywhere I might have run. The gods smiled there before raining on me when my right knee got cranky as I approached SE 11th Avenue on Belmont at the Goat Blocks. Knee crankiness crops up from time to time and is generally no cause for alarm. I can almost always address it by grabbing my ankle and pulling my foot up to my butt to stretch the quads before continuing the run. Not Monday. I ran tentatively a few more blocks before bagging it at 13th. With luck this was nothing more than a minor bout of runners's knee that calls for reasonable precaution, skipping Tuesday's run and taking today off as usual. I'll road-test it tomorrow and see what happens.

Nonetheless the knee issue further darkened my spirit and set the tone for a day of dithering and melancholy as my thoughts turned time and again to shortcomings and failures in my past and the dismal cluelessness that marks my present. What brought it on I cannot say. Saturday and Sunday were glorious days highlighted by afternoon wandering, to Greham's Tsuru Island Japanese Garden and Café Delirium on Saturday, along the river and up to Portland State University and Park Avenue Café on Sunday.

The Gresham wandering took me from the Japanese garden to Springwater Corridor and a little pioneer cemetary with graves from the 19th century. As I was coming back to where the trail intersects with Main Street on my way to Café Delirium for an espresso and journal session, I spotted two bicyclists, a man and a woman, who had paused in their riding. The woman looked familiar but I could not not place her. She looked at me like I looked familiar but she could not place me. It clicked for her the instant she heard my voice when I admitted I did not remember her name. And it came to me as soon as she said, "Kate." My old MAX pal, Kate the oncology nurse at Kaiser Permanente on N. Interstate. We got to know one another afternoons homeward bound on the light rail from Overlook Park to the Rose Quarter where she changed trains to head east while I continued downtown to connect with my bus. I recalled that she told me she and her husband were bicyclists. And here they were! We remarked on the beauty of the day and chatted briefly, she asked how work was going, I told her I am now an old retired guy, and we went our separate ways. I get a kick out of chance encounters like this.

Monday afternoon brightened with a pleasant interlude in Laurelhurst Park where I sat on a bench by the pond and watched a small boy and girl gleefuly toss dirt into the water, blithely ignoring their parents when told to step back from the edge. While there I read Wordsworth's "Resolution and Independence," the poem about the old leech-gatherer, with the lines "We Poets in our youth begin in gladness; / But thereof come in the end despondency and madness." The sentiment was suited to the day. The melancholy, sadness for no reason, will pass, and return, and pass again, in the way of things, a cycle that is in its own way another aspect of the richness of things. The way of life.

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