The Place is What You Make It

An essay about making a home wherever you are.

By on August 2, 2019 | Comments

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?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.