The Place is What You Make It

AJW's TaproomI have been fortunate to live in several beautiful places during my adult life. The rugged deserts of the American Southwest, the verdant elegance of the East Bay hills in the San Francisco Bay Area, the tranquil basins of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, and the pastoral meadows of the Blue Ridge over in the eastern U.S. have all provided me with a marvelous backdrop for my running and life. Last month, my family and I moved to yet another different and beautiful place, the Mississippi Delta in America’s heartland.

In each of my homes over the last two decades and like many people who run for fun, I have found something in the place to provide both comfort and challenge. Something in the place that makes them both unique and shared. And something which links them as running grounds and home places. My new place is no different in that way, but remarkably different in others.

With this move, we made a dramatic departure from the past. The Mississippi Delta is relentlessly and unapologetically flat! Sure, with a 90-minute drive in any direction, I can find hills and mountains to test myself on but in my immediate backyard is one of the most fertile and productive swaths of farmland in the world. A place where cotton, soybeans, rice, and corn grow out of the ground as if by magic, feeding and clothing the country and the world. A place that has spawned some of America’s finest music, food, and culture. And a place with an often complicated and ambivalent past. A place that is anything but ‘flat’ historically and socially and yet completely flat physically. And it is with the flatness that comes a compromise and an opportunity and a whole new place to call my own.

Admittedly, in my first month here, the delta running has taken a backseat to all the pleasures of relocating and starting a new job. Meetings, gatherings, social events, and brief summer travel have all conspired to make July of 2019 a less-than-stellar month of training. Yet, in the past week or so I have ventured out and started to make my way into the unique environment of the delta and have found the running to be quite invigorating and inspiring. It turns out that here in this part of the country, there are extensive networks of gravel roads along levees and creeks combined with centuries-old turnrows (essentially, single-lane dirt tracks between the fields) that provide endless opportunities for self-propelled exploration. Additionally, the sights, sounds, and smells of rural America (not to mention the tastes!) make living and running here a full-blown sensory experience.

Certainly, when I return to actual training, I will have my work cut out for me as I will need to, as many flatlanders have to do, improvise my way into running shape with stairmasters, bicycles, and maybe even the swimming pool, but for now I am content to make my new home a part of me and along the way make the place what I can make it. At the end of the day, as long as I can still put one foot in front of the other and move along under my own power, then I am a happy man. And, from there, the rest of life will inevitably fall into place.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Fort Smith Brewing Company in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Named after the first Vietnamese American player in the NFL, Dat Nguyen Stout is a robust and flavorful stout which is much lighter and more drinkable that your typical stout and full of earthy flavors that seem right given the location. Well worth drinking even in summer when most people eschew darker beers, this one is truly a year rounder!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What is particular about your neck of the woods, for running and living?
  • And what is it about your home landscape that inspires you to get out on your daily run?

There are 7 comments

  1. Jesse Jakubiak

    Great books in the Delta: Dispatches from Pluto, Rising Tide by John Barry and the Most Southern Place on earth. I spent a week in Cleveland MS at a workshop for history teachers and had some of the best food ever at the Senators Place, a $9 buffet. I struggled to find places to run during my visit but it is a fascinating place.

  2. AT

    I went out for my daily runs while on vacation the past month. I feel a bit more connected to those areas because of those 30-60 minute jaunts before breakfast or lunch. There really is something uniquely bonding about going for a run in new areas, or areas to which you’ve visited before, but now see with different eyes, all because of a run. Never fails.

  3. Becca LaFond

    Love this Andy! Great to meet you last weekend. I travel 50-80% for work so running has always been a way to explore new places and a way to reorient when I return home. Each terrain and place has its own beauty and running lets you appreciate that in a way that driving or biking do not. I feel so much more connected with a place-be it city or country- that I’ve “run through” than any other type of exploring. Enjoy your new home!

  4. Burke

    I know a little bit about this school because I work at a community college site that is in a rural area (not there), so I spend a fair amount of time looking at curricula and philosophies of secondary schools in rural areas, especially in the Deep South. I think your new school is a fine one and has the right approach to learning. I find working in rural areas to be very fulfilling, and I learn something new everyday. I hope you find the same joy in your new assignment; I am confident that you will. Good luck and bottoms up!!

  5. Steve Pero

    I’ve been living in East Texas for almost 2 years and I’ll point out the negatives of living not far from where you live.

    Lack of hills…as you mention, I need to drive for 90 minutes to find anything resembling a hill.

    Weather…it’s hot and humid most of the year, don’t try running after 8am!

    Loose dogs everywhere…I rarely run without pepper spray in my pocket.

    The only good thing I find living here is the friendly people and being closer to Deb’s family, but all of the negativities won out and We’re moving back to NH next week where the good outweighs the bad.

    Love your weekly articles! Thanks!

  6. Monty

    Making the best out of what you have is a true talent Andy. Running has also helped me explore my sorroundings – learning where I truly am. I enjoy getting an online map and plan a route to follow… and then take even more joy in deviating from those plans when I see a nicer trail or a hill I must climb first. It all pushes me to discover, to inquire, to investigate, to learn. I sometimes need to remember not to expect places like the pictures from the Instagram companies/people that I follow, but as you say “the place is what you make it.”

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