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Summer comes reluctantly to Eugene. In June and July a pale gray cover of marine air often blankets Spencer Butte on the south side of town and blurs the Coburg Hills to the northeast. Between the butte and the hills the Willamette River slides gray-green and cold beneath the concrete footbridge that links the University of Oregon with the football stadium and bike paths and a deserted green expanse of park. In the air is the unpleasant tang of the Weyerhaeuser pulp and paper plant, whose plumes of smoke are a billowing flag over nearby Springfield. On a morning like this it is easy to believe the Oregon ungreeting card's claim that "People in Oregon don't tan in the summertime—they rust."
In my neighbor's cherry trees a pair of raccoons move deliberately from branch to branch, 20 feet above the ground. They are 1� times as big as my cat (who has fallen asleep on my lap while licking her right hind leg), breakfasting on fruit and oblivious of the dictum that raccoons are nocturnal. But who can blame them? Long after sunrise the air remains night cool and it seems like seven in the morning well into the afternoon.
My arms grow weary steadying the binoculars, so I give up on the raccoons and take my morning run. It substitutes for the lost art of front-porch sitting as a means of keeping track of what goes on in the neighborhood. I proceed up Skyline Boulevard, a patchwork of potholes, and into the rhododendron gardens of Hendricks Park. A couple of times I had come through here and smelled turpentine; an art class had set up its easels and several works were in progress.
Moving downhill, out of the park on Fairmount, I encounter the woman who walks two old Scotties. She is lean and sticklike, striding slowly up the hill, the skittering dogs straining at the leash. Sometimes she is without the animals, but then she has her nose in a book. She must know the potholes by heart.
Opposite Hayward Field (where I found Hayward, the cat), I hit the two-mile mark at better than seven minutes a mile. Every morning at this point I have to curb my conceit by remembering that I've been running downhill. Two men in the gray shorts of the university's phys-ed department fall in behind. As we head uphill on Birch they swing wide to pass, one of them turning to say good morning. Immediately, I am five yards back, then 10. Will I never learn to run uphill?
Farther up, the view is of the train tracks, the river and the bike paths going past the dump. Flocks of gulls circle, and the vista is far from inspiring. Which is a pity be. Cause I badly. Need some kind. Of inspiration. To get me up. This hill.
Finally it's downhill and swoop right, up a small rise and back to the rhododendron gardens, over the potholes to home. I walk around to cool off, checking out the neighbor's apple tree and brushing away the cobwebs that are strung across the road. A million million spiders live in these firs. The strands of their webs crisscross everywhere, growing back almost as fast as I walk through them. The only way to avoid getting them in the face is to be as low-slung as Hayward, who pops out of a clump of ivy. Her chirping mews are demanding.
O.K. We'll go in to breakfast.
No matter what they tell you, Oregon has days of sunshine. The temperature will rise into the high 90s and the Willamette River will fill with black inner tubes and thrashing, splashing humans. And then Eugene's runners-joggers (maybe 10,000 of us out of a population of 90,000) take their exercise early in the morning or in the long twilight.
Lili Ledbetter is a morning person. "The heat's almost unbearable for running in the summer," she says. "I get up at 5:45 and run five miles. Then I go back to bed." Lili is 4'8" and holds the world record in the marathon for women under 19, having run 2:56:07 last February at the age of 13.