BOOK REVIEW"Running Wild, an extraordinary adventure of the human spirit"
By John Annerino
Thunder's Mouth Press, New York, N.Y.
Released in bookstores February 1, 1998
Sharing a Primitive Experience of Being Human
"Running Wild," by John Annerino, who was raised in Phoenix and Prescott and lives in Tucson, is the most exciting book that I have ever read. I have long been insatiably curious about what the early Indians who lived around here were like as human beings. What were they really like? And this book has brought me into the body of a Stone Age homo sapiens, more than a thousand years ago (in there behind those primitive eyes), who ran, and ran, and ran, looking out at the "Arizona" of those ancient days going by.
It has brought me inside the burning lungs and beating heart of a runner, following the always treacherous trails that the Hohokam, Anasazi, and other more ancient Indians ran along, all day, and all day the next day. In this era, homo sapiens was a running animal to a degree that could barely be conceived of by modern Phoenicians and Tucsonans.
Annerino's account of running along these same ancient trails--over desert expanses, up and down mountains, along the length of the bottom of the Grand Canyon, has shown another side of running than we are used to in modern track meets and even marathons--the side that is about getting there alive, through all the trials and dangers that come up. His contemporary efforts have shown that homo sapiens can still do what these ancient Indians could do. His long-distance runs traverse some of the most rugged terrain on earth--as hot as it gets, and as sheer as it gets--covering marathon distances day after day, carrying only a small bag of provisions, skin water bottles with just enough to get from one water source to another, and a cotton blanket to wrap up in to sleep.
Well prepared for the challenges he set out for himself, Annerino is a hiking and mountain climbing teacher, a photojournalist who has covered the southwestern wilderness for a score of magazines, and he has shown us the faces of still-primitive Indians who live in Mexico and Arizona in a beautiful series of books. This has brought him into more and more intimate contact with the most primitive humans that still live around here.
He is an activist in the tragic cause of the many Mexicans who perish yearly in the unforgiving desert along the Mexican border, attempting to find a new home without realizing how dangerous walking across that desert can be. And he is an intrepid runner, who, knowing of the distances historically covered by Stone Age runners--which today are fairly regarded as "superhuman"--has been tempted to spend his life in rigorous training in order to prove that these things can still can be done by the human body.
As he runs along these trails (plotted from historians' maps and verified by traces that he finds of them), Annerino provides a reader with a well-documented historical perspective of the Indians who lived in these wilderness places over the millenia, who ran these trails before him in inter-tribal journeys that are documented by the trade goods that archaeologists have found that they exchanged.
Annerino is re-discovering the most direct ways that they found to reach each other's encampments and villages on foot, no matter how difficult the challenges along the way, over frightening terrain that would be unthinkable for today's freeway travelers who may be disturbed if the air conditioning goes on the blink.
He reminds us at one point that "Anasazi runners [would] kick and chase a wooden ball, running night and day, virtually non-stop over the 250-mile-long firelit course in three days." At another point he shares an account of Indians who would run, even twenty feet, instead of walk, being so naturally accustomed to being a running being. He shares about Indians who ran deer and sheep down in the mountains, and children who got up before dawn and ran as far as they could each morning toward the sunrise.
In his personal and experiential account of these long-distance runs, Annerino brings me into the mind and body of the Stone Age Indian --the fears, the crying with cold, and heat, and the pain, the tremendous excitement of arrival at a destination where there is a water-hole, or tinaja, that must be there, and found, and must contain water for life to continue and the run to go on. I found that I had to steel myself with bravery each time I picked this book up during the days that I was reading it. And although I didn't want to put it down, it seemed I could only survive so much of it at a time. I dreaded pushing on--running under the sun across the desert floor to that mountain valley way off ahead there, finding the water-hole dry and having to run more miles in the dark to the next water hole, running and running along ledges with sheer drops alongside, running in the rain, and snow, encountering seemingly impassable terrain and remembering the advice of earlier explorers who wrote down how they managed to navigate the same impossible point, and up and down the sides of the Grand Canyon, where modern tourists don't go--or I would even peek over--swimming the cold Colorado River by innovative strategies that avoid being swept over the rapids, knowing that finding dry wood and tinder for a fire to dry out would take a bit longer than death, and so running to get back the lost core heat after that chilling swim. V This is exciting empathizing. A reader doesn't actually have to do these superhuman feats, thank goodness! And yet we do get to go along on them in this vivid sharing of Annerino's experiences. We get to see it and feel it, and know it can be done. His writing style makes what it really was like alive again for those of us who cannot go running along these ancient trails. He lets us have a deeper understanding of what life in Arizona was like in the early, early days when a race of runners lived around here for whom such courage and physical prowess was an ordinary part of life.
"Running Wild" is an extraordinary cross-millenial account, written by a wondrously primitive modern artist. Somehow I feel I am a better human being today for having had the courage to read it through and be there with him through all that.