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Run 59: Roots in the Water

August 24, 2012

Miles: 6.5

Strange that I’ve never written about running in the town where I was raised.

My sweetheart, pup, and I drove north for my birthday weekend, and I realized soon in that what I really wanted for my birthday, what I wanted even more than coffee flown in from Seattle (thank you, dear husband), more than great, laughing conversations with my family, more than a dreamy afternoon nap under the trees, was a quiet morning run by the river.

So I set out for said run on Saturday morning, and despite a rather inauspicious start (specifically the 6 am collision of puppy wiggles, spouse sleepiness and my frustratingly unbending Type A-ness), I fell into the car and drove to town and parked at the river and breathed very, very deep. I am a freshwater girl. I grew  up sliding the thick ice of the Baraboo River with my dad and playing on Wisconsin River sandbars with my sister, swimming under the Lake Superior stars and in the green-blue-grey waters of Devil’s Lake. While I did come to love the icy salt of my Pacific Ocean home, the vastness of wind and water left me a little too awake, too bare and exposed. With the waters I know, on the other hand, I am my best self. I am calm, assured, eyes open. I am very, very good at crossing rivers on rocks or fallen trees. And when I run by water, water I know, I can fun forever. I’m not scared of anything.

The Wisconsin was like a mirror on Saturday, its surface a blade of silver. Mist and sky hung above it, an indistinguishable blend of magenta and amber, and two herons stood in the sand. And the smell was the smell of river- of cold earth and damp reeds and fish and death and  tree roots and blossoms and refuse and swallows and willows. I ran forward to Edgewater Street, a street where for years I have made a great secret sport of silently naming who lives in the houses I pass. I know almost every one- the local pharmacist and his grouchy wife, my 9th grade chemistry teacher (whose spouse read War and Peace in a single weekend after they made a bet about whether she could or not), my favorite librarian, the mother of the boy who took me to Homecoming long ago, a local judge, on and on. This makes me either pathetic or the product of a small town. The houses are pretty and old, flanked by big trees and flower pots and American-made vehicles.

I ran on, up the hill by the old hospital, down along the silent boat landing (really just a road into the water), and to the dark side of River Street, where a deep, marshy woods is still and shadowy to the left and the steep hill of a cemetery reaches to the right. I always raced through this stretch when I was younger, my heart beating so hard I was sure everyone could hear it. But what’s worse, there’s actually never anyone in this corner, just the hot pulsing of bugs and water and the clattering swish of trees. I didn’t race on Saturday. I ran steadily, to the bend in the road where the road sign (which indicates there’s a bend in the road) is covered in green vines, and up the hill. I passed the house of an old boyfriend’s grandparents, the old boyfriend whose brother died this summer. My breath caught in my throat. So much change, I thought, as my feet slapped against the road, the road I’ve run a million times, the hill I’ve run a million times, the things that are still there, that I’ve always known.

I passed more cemeteries and the highway department and a gas station and the airport (“airport”) and Silver Lake and enormous old brick houses by the empty train station and the police station and the downtown (“downtown”) and St. Mary’s church, where three beautiful white flags fly vertically, like the white and yellow flags that flapped so loudly in Tibet.

I ran back to the river, now a choppy mix of purple and sweet-smelling breezes, still there for me at age 29.

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