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New Year's on the Run

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Alamy
Alamy

Exactly one year ago I suited up in Dri-FIT for a New Year's Day trail jog along the creek in my favorite county park. The weather seemed tolerable enough for it -- though I don't tend to enjoy wintertime runs -- but more importantly, the day seemed appropriate for it. I don't care much for New Year's resolutions, but this wasn't about an exercise regimen I wanted to lock into place. It was the beginning of a big year for me, and I wanted to collect myself, assess my approach to the next twelve months.

What I like best about these wooded runs is the isolation. I was in the planning stages of shooting my first film (The Suspect, just completed this month) and craved the time to plan out the undertaking. A workout on the first day of the year was a chance to focus, gather my long-range strategy. For tax reasons, I had one year to make a feature film start to finish, finance to fine-tuning. No extensions, no excuses. Nothing focuses the mind like a deadline. So there I was, beating out a decent pace, lost in thought. Running with an iPod chock full of music by a composer I'd been lucky enough to corral into working on my project before I even had the first investor dollar in the bank... when I started to understand I wasn't alone after all. I couldn't see another living creature, but the baying of the foxhounds clued me in, s l o w l y penetrating my freezing cold earbuds from the woods off to my left.

You see, I live in hunt country. And without my realizing it, I'd gone running on the one day in this particular park where some local club was doing their thing, whipping through the forest chasing after a fox. Soon the soundtrack of my hypothetical film was drowned out by the thundering chaos of the hunt. And then suddenly, the prey -- a beautiful red fox -- darted from the woods and skittered onto the snowy trail directly in front of me. He stopped dead still and stared at me. I stopped, too. Killing my momentum. Something I try hard not to do on a run. But this creature, this tableaux, had me in a tight grip.

If you ask me, the fox looked terrified. As I've come to understand it, the foxes in these hunts are (allegedly) perfectly safe. When they are caught, they aren't hurt or killed. Promoters of the sport, in fact, insist that the fox knows it's playing a game and will simply hide in some forest hole or another if it doesn't feel like getting chased any longer. Maybe so. But based on what I saw, it appeared that this particular fox knew nothing of this view of things. Slavering dogs are hell bound to root it out. Giant glistening thoroughbreds stomp and upturn mud with their hammer hooves, while their mounts shout and whoop it up.

After a moment the fox turned and bolted along the trail, in the same direction I'd been running. I went back to the run, following the fox but falling far behind. Within a couple of minutes several horsemen crashed onto the trail. No one seemed particularly surprised to see me there, as if on any hunt sooner or later they run into some bystander just like me. Each of the hunters gave me the same look -- no words were exchanged -- but the questions were clear, and it hung in the cold air between us.

Did you see it? Which way did it go?

I nodded, pointed. I felt for that little fox, sure, but more importantly, I didn't like how these sportsmen were stacking the game. If it's true the fun is in the chase, and not the capture, then in some way I was helping them out by pointing a thumb behind me, in the opposite direction.

And if the blue blood spirit-of-the-chase is all a lie, and they were just roping me in to give themselves some unfair advantage, well... too bad they didn't realize I'd already been pressed into service, become a co-conspirator for the other side.

Now I don't believe in destiny, and I don't believe in signs. I do, however, believe in metaphor. Can't get through a day without one. And now, it seems I can't let a New Year's Day come without thinking back on that fox a certain way. For me, the year didn't start softly, an infant with a sash reading "2012" taking its first wobbly steps. It came out of the gate like a pack of bloodthirsty foxhounds and yammering hunters. A film: one year, start to finish. Nothing focuses the mind like a deadline.

All of us are that fox, giving everything we've got to stay ahead of the game and make it to the next New Year's Eve in one piece. And we can all use any help we can get.

To ring in the New Year for me now is in the primal moment, because I know time is cruel and limited, and as far as I know, it has me running for my life, trying to accomplish what I need to before it catches me.