Reflections: The Loop at Twenty Five

“Beauty before me as I run
Beauty behind me as I run…”

These are the first two lines of the blessing – actually a Celtic-Navajo chant – that we use to begin the Leatherman’s Loop, the long and muddy 10k race in the Pound Ridge Reservation in NY that began 25 years ago with ninety runners and now has over 1,000.

However, over the years the Loop, as we call it, has grown not only in numbers but also in significance. In fact, for many it is more than a race: it is a rite of spring, a celebration of life, an experience of beauty, an encounter with the grace of the world.  In this way it is shaping the way we see ourselves in the world, what is of value and where we fit. Of course, this is the essence of sustainability: how we see and live our place in the world appropriately.  The Loop has become an instrument of sustainability.

The community here has done much to be more sustainable through our Climate Action Plan, our Environmental Summits, our energy programs, and our farmers markets, but until we change how we see ourselves in the world – as part of nature and not separate from and superior to it – these will not impact the way they should. The Loop fosters this critical component of sustainability by helping us appreciate the beauty and magic of the world we share with everything else. And that is what we highlight when we say our Celtic Navajo chant together.

This year was particularly powerful for all kinds of reasons, including the wet April that raised the water table and provided glorious mud for us to run (and fall) in, but also the glorious spring morning of May Day for us to savor the beauty. Perhaps for these reasons, the runners were particularly engaged by the chant which they kept calling out to each other at the strangest of times throughout the race. My personal highlight was the third and final stream crossing where the organizers and spectators had gathered to witness the last challenge for the participants in this great community celebration: well actually the second last for there remained three hundred yards of uphill slogging after the stream crossing to get to the finish line. But it was at the stream where I arrived covered – literally – in mud, as if the earth herself had embraced me, that I experienced this wonderful sense of joyful connection:

‘Go, Danny!’ they yelled. ‘You’re covered in beauty.’

And kids put out their hands for me to slap as I ran – actually staggered would be more like it – by them.

Afterwards, many came up to thank me for the blessing but, more importantly, to tell me how they had carried it with them throughout the race, or rather how it had carried them when the going got tough.

‘This was more fun than all the races I did in college.’

‘There is magic in this event.’

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that for many this is a spiritual experience by which I mean a deep sense of what’s important – the land and its beauty, the water and its freshness, the sun and its warmth – but also a richer understanding of identity – I am part of all this – and purpose – this is something worth looking after. As such, the Loop emerges this year as a powerful example of new ways of celebrating the deeper dimensions of life and cultivating the right values for human living today.

“I see beauty all around.
In beauty may we walk.
In beauty may we see.
In beauty may we all be.”

What could be more sustaining or sustainable?

Daniel Martin

May 2, 2011