Christmas Eve too busy to run. Christmas Day too stuffed to run. Boxing Day I was too tired to run, but I still made it out, to run along the cycling path to owl country, my new favourite route.
The path was its usual self; blackbirds bathing in the drains and flinging leaf litter about; dunnocks and wrens crossing the track at ankle height; great and blue tits at work in the trees at eye level; gulls sailing the grey skies above.
And fire...the copse near the Gypsum factory seemed to be on fire.
The flames coming through the trees was quite distinct, but as I got nearer I realised it wasn't a fly tip being burnt, or an isolated patch of stubble burning, but rather it was a campfire being tended by a chap dressed in winter gear. There was a small tent, which seemed to me to be more like a kiddy's summer one for the garden, and also some sort of lean to open to the warming flames.
I was intrigued, but didn't want to disturb the man as he made his breakfast, convincing myself he probably wanted to be alone. I kept on running, and gradually his camp and his fire were left behind as I reached the bridge, and struck off across an owl country decorated by goldfinch, partridge and winter thrushes. There have been rumours since the summer that there was someone living wild off the cycle track, possibly an Eastern European fellow, but this was the first time I'd seen any evidence of that.
In retrospect, it almost seems like a folk tale, a Brothers Grimm affair set in the cold woods out of town. I should have approached the old hermit and offered him my help, and then listened to his tragic story of being chased out of town on a false premise. On promising to help restore his good name, he would have revealed himself to be a deposed prince, bishop, or magician, and given me a trinket of some kind before imparting an impenetrable wisdom.
Eventually, long after he'd been restored to his throne, I would have found myself in a sticky situation, and the nature of this knowledge would have suddenly become clear as crystal in my time of greatest fear. I would have escaped, and found my fortune and true path in life, in a different town, in a different occupation.
All because I stopped to help a poor man in a straggling wood.
Of course, I didn't do that. I shunned mystery, and kept on running. As the snow fell last night, I thought often of this chap; who he was, how he was getting on, and how he found himself sleeping rough in an undistinguished small town off a cycle track.
And I wonder if he was indeed a mysterious prince, looking to reward anyone who offered him a small kindness.