Skip to main content
first person

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at

Open this photo in gallery:

Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

Some of us are creatures of habit; every summer, for example, I like to drive from my home in the lower mainland of British Columbia to Saskatchewan, where I was born. I stop in towns where I can run, and what works, sticks, I suppose.

The first time I stayed in Medicine Hat (just “the Hat” to us regulars), I was desperate for someplace interesting to stretch my legs after spending hours in the car. I envisioned some bucolic, peaceful place, alive with prairie birdsong and a dollop of trees for them to perch in. Unfortunately, the motel I booked was close to the highway – too close to hear or even see anything but traffic.

I ran along a nearby parallel road, hoping for trees, but it was still contaminated with cars and trucks roaring noisily past. So, I decided to cross the highway and head out of town in hopes of finding a trail through an empty field perhaps – anything but buildings and horns. But most trees on the Prairies are only windbreaks, it seems.

I hadn’t gone too far out of the Hat when I heard not the wind, but a meadowlark calling from a large patch of trees across the road. They were too close for it to be a mirage. So I crossed over and found myself in a well-kept forest with little paved roads inside, criss-crossing it in grids.

I have to confess that initially, I was thrilled that I’d found somewhere that fulfilled all of my hoped-for criteria, but after a while, it began to feel a little creepy. Rows and rows of tombstones stretched off into the distance – each one only slightly different from its neighbour; this must be the military section, I thought.

I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t actually violating anything by running in a cemetery. I was careful not to step on any graves, and didn’t stop to rest on anything vaguely commemorative, but the thought that I was actually enjoying the run seemed, well, insensitive. Maybe even a little unhealthy; I started to notice the names on individual graves on my second or third run past them – or were they beginning to notice me? After a while it was hard to tell.

I was so preoccupied by the thought that I was being watched, that I almost bumped into a car parked off to the side one of the little roads. I stopped running when an elderly lady who had been putting flowers on a headstone noticed me near her car, and waved me over.

It was a warm day and she was dressed in a loose, red dress with a white floral pattern, and her head was covered by a large white sun hat. She must have been well into her 80s, if not beyond.

“I’m so happy to see somebody enjoying the grounds,” she said, a beatific smile spreading across her face. “George was a runner, too, you know. We both were.”

She stopped to wipe the sweat off her brow with a linen handkerchief that magically appeared from her purse. “He would have been so happy to know that others would enjoy running in here.” She sighed and put the handkerchief away. “I think he’d feel he’d made a good choice.”

She started to walk toward her car and I followed, mindful of where I stepped. When she reached the door to her car, she turned and looked at me with a different expression on her face.

“I’ve been watching you run up and down the roads in here,” she said. “There’s one thing George never did when he ran ...” She hesitated, clearly uncertain whether it was her place to criticize a stranger, even if he was a fellow runner.

I decided I’d make it easier for her. “Oh?” I said, to reassure her that I was listening. “What was that ... ?”

“He always made certain he heel-planted on his re-entry.” She looked at my feet for a moment. “I see you’re wearing out the medial aspects of your shoes as well ...”

She shook her head briefly, but sadly, I thought. “I think you’re landing incorrectly, young man.”

The comment caught me completely off guard. I wasn’t sure whether she was being sarcastic or offering sage advice. Back in her car, she remounted a smile and rolled down her window.

“Maybe orthotics would help,” she added, and drove away.

I’ve returned to run through that cemetery each time I’ve travelled through the Hat but I’ve never seen her again. And the area is so large and the graves so numerous, I haven’t been able to find the area where we met, to check if another stone has been laid beside her husband’s. I still feel I’m being watched, of course, but each time I run along the grid of roads, I remember her advice and realize I haven’t corrected a thing since we talked. I hope she and George are not disappointed.

Gary Kinney lives in Bowen Island, B.C.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe