Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day 264 - Leaf Catching

Way, way.... wuh-haaaay back, when I was younger and faster and more durable, I worked at Bell Labs. It was an ok job, but the best running conditions, ever. We had a great locker room, another whole room to stretch, and some gorgeous places to run.

And run we did.

There were 5 of us, all engineers, or some other form of geek, who ran pretty much every weekday over lunch.

Running with the same guys, every day, rehashing the same debates, it could get a little stale.*

As one summer turned to fall, and the temperatures fell, and the humidity relented, we were invigorated. The usual runs weren't cutting it. And so, thanks to Kent, the wise one, The Heritage Park Leaf Catching League was born. You may know it better as the HPLCL. But probably not.

The rules of Leaf Catching are deceptively simple:
  1. Catch a leaf, get a point.
  2. NFL pass defense rules on interference. If you interfere, you lose a point.
  3. You can't camp out waiting for leaves to fall.
  4. Person with the most points are the end of the run, wins.
But the best games have simple rules. The complexity doesn't show itself until you play.

At first, you might feel a little silly. You look for leaves near you. You might even see one, but catching is a different story. You realize you need more notice, more lead time.

You start scanning the sky for targets within reach, but right in front of you, and not straight up, but out at about 45 degrees, where the catchable leaves will be.

You start watching the wind, noticing what types of trees are dropping lots of leaves, and which leaves are falling predictably, drifting down, easier to catch than the ones that tumble and flutter, bobbing away just as you try to close your hand on them.

And soon you remember that you're competing with other players. You find yourself maneuvering for the best position, up front, in the middle of the lane just so when a leaf falls, you get the first crack.

You look for leaves that might not be within your reach, but could be in the other guy's reach, and you wait to see if he sees it and makes a move to know if you should defend, or keep looking for your own leaf.

And the closer you get to the end of the run, the end of the game, the more aware you are of the score. If you're behind, you scan, more anxiously now, for any sign of anything falling. If you're ahead, you look for any sign that your competitors are making a move toward a leaf, hoping you can knock it away, or screen them from it.

And before you know it, the run is over. The miles have slipped by unnoticed. The winner is congratulated, and the losers rally their excuses.

This is what happens when geeks on a run are left to their own devices. It probably seems like a silly, pointless game. And it is, until you play it.

It's Leaf Catching season folks. Get a couple running buddies out near some trees, and give it a try.

If after you play a few rounds, you think you've got some game, maybe we'll give you a crack at the big leagues.

Good running,

* Don't get me wrong, we loved it. In fact, despite being scattered by site closings and finding other jobs, we've all maintained a virtual running club. We check in once a month, report our miles, whine about our injuries, bemoan getting old. Even without seeing most of the gang for months, and some for years, I still consider them good friends.

Numbers: 4 miles on asphalt trail, and 4 leaves, good for the win.