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TOWARD THE SUN / Kent Nelson NIEMAN RUNS in the mountains. He starts from our small house in town at seven thousand feet, and in a few minutes, I see his maroon sweat suit drifting among the dark spruce near the Ute Chief Mine at 7,500. When I return from the garden with the day's pick of beans, lettuce, and squash (we get no tomatoes at this altitude), he will be nearing the lip of Silver Lake, a cold, shallow, Ashless sea at eight thousand feet. I like to watch him there, because the trail skirts the lake, and he is in the open for several minutes until he climbs higher into another sheath of trees. I lay the vegetables on the porch step, wipe my hands on my blouse, and pick up the binoculars. In the circle of glass, Nieman's maroon form is muddled by heat waves from a neighbor's roof, but I do not need perfect focus to be absorbed. Against the green tundra and gray skree, he holds his arms perpendicular to his body as he runs, as if he were a hawk tilting its wings to catch the drafts and thermals which swirl among the crags. He reaches out with his long legs and steps lightly over the rocky terrain, darting as the path twists along the contour of the shoreline. I know his face. The physical strain is in the creases of his eyes and in the tight, pursed lips. His distant expression is somnambulant and dreamlike, though Nieman claims he never dreams. I imagine sweat beading upon his forehead, oozing into his eyes, and I recreate his face with the serenity I wish were there. In my leisure, standing over the vegetables, I am able to make him over. In Nieman there is much to want to change. First I would change the legend. The stories about him are both widespread and exaggerated because he neither confirms nor denies the details. To many, Nieman is heroic, superhuman. When he runs he never tires. When he races, which is seldom now, he wins without apparent effort. His stride is longer, his body in better condition than anyone else's. In high school fifteen years ago, Nieman ran a mile in four minutes flat, but when colleges tried to recruit him, he said he could not run upon a track. He stayed in the mountains and went to college nearby so he could run as he wanted. I know Nieman's unusual power. Once I climbed Mt. Hayden with friends—an eight-mile hike with a vertical rise of over seven thousand 126 · The Missouri Review feet. We started at six in the morning, and by three in the afternoon, we were nearing the summit. Nieman had lunch in town and beat us to the top. Yet it is not the legend itself that troubles me so much as what it does to Nieman. He does not exactly believe his own press, but the stories have an unsettling effect upon him, as though inciting him to further outrages, to harder tasks. To me, this myth is another shadow upon a body which already has too many. When I met Nieman three years ago, I was painting—studying with a man in Tucson. I had just begun to discover a style, my own natural inclination toward the dry climate, and perhaps I had acquired too much comfort. But I was strong and, at the time, he was on crutches. "Your fault or his?" I had asked, nodding at the cast. "Man versus machine." "Yours then." He had smiled, but his face was sad. The eyes seemed somehow uneasy, as though there were a tautness or an impatience between his mind and his heart. "I tried to outrace a car to an intersection," he said, "and I thought the driver was playing the game." "You were running?" "He never saw me." At the time, of course, I didn't know Nieman was that kind of runner.I assumed he was one of the millions who had taken to the fad. He was a pleasant-looking man who raced cars to intersections. I didn't know...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 126-134
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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