Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Running Through Kensington Gardens

June 28, 2004

I was delighted when I emerged at the Tube stop at Lancaster Gate to find just across the street a large park. Fabulous I thought, I will definitely have to run there in the morning. In retrospect, I should not have been surprised, since I am staying at the Gresham Hyde Park Hotel. I picked the hotel because of its proximately to the Tube stop (after lugging my enormous black suitcase through the streets of London three years ago, I learned my lesson), but I didn't realize that the name of my new quarters referred to its location within a block from Hyde Park. The next morning, plagued with insomnia, I started out for a run at 5:30am. Now, I have not ran with any regularity for approximately two years, but since I am now on vacation, my normal excuse of "having no time" does not hold any validity. Besides when I was in London three years ago, I ran every day and it was wonderful because the air seems so much cleaner here than in my home town of Los Angeles and the temperature so mild in comparison. The morning of my run was no exception...

The sky is blue without a cloud (really) and the sunrise is peaking up over the trees. I choose the serpentine pathway around the lake. Knowing that my progress will not be easy, I give myself the goal of the whole length of one side of the pond. The pond is four times as long as it was wide, so this will be a healthy challenge. I start with small even steps and just keep moving. My legs feel old and creaky. My first encounter with another being turns out to be a family of swans taking a morning swim. Mummy and Daddy are positively regal with their beautiful long necks and their white feathers. The six babies however have squatty bodies and storm-cloud grey feathers. It just goes to prove that even swans have those ugly, awkward stages to go through. Then to my right, a bronze statue appears, a young impish boy on a pedestal surrounded by female admirers. It is the physical incarnation of the world famous boy who refused to grow up, Peter Pan. As I make my way down the path, I am surrounded by flowers on either side, beautiful trumpet vines opening to meet the dawn and delicate purple bristly flowers on a bush I can not identify. To my right is a field of grass, with a multitude of color, greens, yellows and purplely-browns, over grown and glorious in the morning sun. As I progress my body becomes a little warmer and my movements have loosened. As I passed "The Lido," a small area that is sectioned off for swimming, elderly men with their wrinkled, yet still athletic bodies waded into the pond for their morning exercise. The elderly swimmers' dedication to their physical upkeep provides a source of inspiration. I pick up my pace a little.


As I round the bend, I reach the part of the waterfront where the geese gathered to sleep. About 100 of them, all in various states of waking up on the bank. An unbelievable sight. I veer off the path and navigate through the trees to avoid startling them. None of the fowl pay any attention to me as I run pass. Around one more bend and I reach the far end of the pond where a little stone bridge leads to the opposite side over a small waterfall. I slow my pace as I approach the bridge. On the shoreline near the bridge, ducks and pigeons have gathered. A middle-aged man with two grocery bags approaches the bridge from the opposite side. He wears glasses and has a progressively balding crown. I slow to a stop on the bridge and bend over in exhaustion. The man turns toward the pond and the birds lurch forward to meet him. They know him. He reaches into one of the plastic grocery bags and begins to fling breadcrumbs at his feathered friends. They hoot and squawk their appreciation. He does not say a word, but pitches the crumbs with vigor. I smile and think about how delightful it was to go to the park and feed birds when I was a little girl with my father. The simple joy of making the birds happy with a stale loaf of bread was one of my favorite activities as a kid. Unfortunately, it is rare for us to carry on this simple childhood past-time past puberty. This man however has carried this joyous act well into adulthood.

I decide to leave the man alone with his friends, and wander over to the opposite side of the bridge to look at the waterfall. Quietly on the edge of the falls is a Heron waiting ever so patiently for a fish to reach the shallow edge of the falls so he can peck at it for breakfast. I am careful not the lean over the bridge as to interrupt the bird's vigil. Suddenly he lurches his neck forward and snaps up a silvery object from the water. Unfortunately, it is a piece of cellophane trash, which has fooled him. He shakes it in his beak with disgust and then drops it over the edge of the falls. I wonder if there are any fish in the water at all and whether his quest for food is in vain. I bend over and silently go through a series of yoga movements to stretch my tired body. I close my eyes and breath deeply. I spread my legs apart and bend at the waist. I open my eyes to greet the world upside-down and come face to face with a squirrel, which has crept up three inches away from my face. He is completely tame and looks at me in a way as if to say, "Hello, do you have any food?" I adjust myself into an upright position. I shrug my shoulders as if to say, "I have no nuts for you." Surmising I have nothing to offer him, my bushy-tailed friend sanders off into the bushes on the opposite width of the bridge. I turn and leave the Heron, the squirrel and the birdman and slowly walk back down the shoreline path towards my hotel. My legs feel good. I feel youthful and invigorated. A successful run indeed.

Copyright Romy Schneider 2009. All Rights Reserved.

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