Sunday, February 15, 2015

Running Forever in Kansas

Went for a run today. Six miles. -11º windchill, with gusts of up to 45 mph and snow largely covering over where exposed sidewalk belonged. It's brutal conditions out there. Yet even this experience felt somewhat sanitized, civilized, and benign. Around every bend a car is waiting to drive past to evidence society. Huddled pedestrians waiting for the bus or scurrying from the coffee shop to work are reminders that you're not that impressive - they're doing it without gloves or physical activity to generate warmth. You can run for miles around here and still be surrounded by houses. You can't get alone. Not like home.

Back home is different. There you can run in touch with some primal ancestor who fought the elements for survival. The land has been conquered, yet still feels primitive and untamed. Heading down the driveway and turning left onto 9, there's nothing. No elevation changes, no turns in the road. You just are. So run flat and straight as long as your legs will carry you. That's the most beautiful thing in the world - it doesn't matter if you run two miles before turning around or you run ten, you've run the same difference. You're in the same place. There are no pressures for pace or mileage or performance. Just flat and straight as long as you want - or as long as you can. Two or ten, it's all the same. There is no change, no time.

Every mile is the opportunity to turn. A country mile. Veer left, and too soon the river forces you to turn around. Choose right, and the descension to connecting with a dead ancestry is enhanced. Sometimes the summers are humid - those times you can't cut wheat until 11 or even noon because the plants become tacky and gum up the combine's machinery. Other years it's bone dry and you can cut all night. Those are the times to appreciate. Waking at five to race the sun out the door, there's already no sign of dew on the grass blades. In the middle of July you can already find yourself surrounded by brown as you head down an old dirt road. While other regions of the country are alive and thriving, the corn here is already racing to outrun death. When my ancestors migrated from the lush fields of Iowa, I wonder what they were trying to outrun? What did the death of a Kansas July offer that made them stop? Maybe they tried to run back, but never got anywhere. The trappings of a flat vortex.

Falling into stride with the fading crops can settle your mind into a peace unattainable anywhere else. Each step kicks up a small plume of dust that lingers in the air a minute or two before eventually settling back down onto the road, waiting for a passing pickup to provide the next disturbance. Someone in town says the rains should come soon and calm that dust down. Should inject some life back into the corn too. We'll see. Until it does, you can just keep running as far as your legs will carry you.

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