Today I donned my new running shoes and went out for my first long run of the year. It was a cold and frosty sunrise. The misty haze turned the lifeless treetops golden. The morning trek took me near the Limes, which turned my thoughts toward Rome. My mind did not fixate so much on the geographic location of Rome, but wandered more towards those men who served that ancient empire during the first century.
I ran along the boundary that separated the civilized from the barbarians, a borderline that now lies covered in moss. The layers of fallen and decaying leaves, cover the expense of lives, money, and resources of the great empire. I ran in the midst of these ancient souls who still occupy these trails. They are ever present, still manning their stations until relief comes with new recruits.
My footfalls were muffled. The gentle pff, pff, pff, of my feet on the pavement could be heard under the n-tz, n-tz, n-tz of the music on my iPad. I was keeping time with the app, breathing easy, and taking in the morning view. The soldier’s footfalls were probably more of a jumble of sound. The gentle padding of their leather boot-like moccasins on the packed earth mixed with the clank of their chest plate as it came into contact with their shield. The swish of their thick clothing against the 30 kilograms of rations and equipment packed on their backs could barely be heard over annoying clattering of their metal drinking cup and plate as they swung back and forth, colliding with every stride.
I thought about the purpose of my run. I run to get out and enjoy my surroundings. I run because it makes me feel alive. I run to push myself to new limits. I run to get closer to my goal…a 10K, a half marathon, a marathon. The soldiers ran, or walked, these trails to get to their next post. Their goal was 20 years of service. They would become citizens, receive land, and benefit from health care. These men were displaced, serving a foreign leader, far from their origins. Yet the sacrifice of working on the Roman frontier would hopefully ensure the futures of their next generation.
I love spending time in this forest. Once in a while, a wild boar or a small deer will cross my path. A horse and rider might share the trail with me. The forest serves as my shelter from the city, a place to escape to. It is a place where I can let go and let down my guard. The soldiers had no forest to hide in, for that forest had long been destroyed by those who came before them. The woods were stripped for fuel, for building, for the palisades of the Limes. The soldiers were exposed to the elements with only their small towers and stations to escape to. They were on guard, always.
As I left the forest the sound of their footfall vanished. The church bells from the Altstadt, the cars rounding the rotary, and the U-bahn broke the spell of the enchanted forest. Stepping out into the full sunlight, I said goodbye to the ancient ones and strode back toward my reality.