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Running in Prairie Places

I’ve been running recreationally for about 8 years. I’ve found that running helps me understand where I am: navigating streets, roads, paths, fields, deepens my sense of a place.
This summer I am part of a seminar with Dr. Isern to explore memory, identity and place on the Great Plains. So I set out to explore how running on the plains might deepen my understanding of those places.

Watford City, ND – 7:00am
I feel like I am not moving forward. I lug each step off the ground, as I struggle against this phenomenal wind –as if my feet were magnetically drawn to the earth. I can’t wait until I turn around. A quarter mile from the city, I’ve left all signs of other humans … nope, there’s a man on a tractor. We share waves; I pass him. I wonder if the wind is as stunning from behind glass? For all that my legs resent the gusts, my face feels alive. The hills look alive too; the grasses do their share of waving, up and down the rolls and rolls of hills. Atop a hill I’m at the pinnacle of wind and pinnacle of sight:. Giving the wind my back, I fly down the hill and wave at the farmer one more time.

Shaunavon, Saskatchewan – 5:00am
This morning Saskatchewan is foggy, but I can still see enough of the road in front of me to know where to step the next foot. I can also see far enough to see I’m not alone today: a dead rattlesnake, dead flickertail and hundreds of birds and ducks join me. I am not a welcome guest, however, dozens of ducks in the water flutter away from me, synchronized. But there’s one duck that doesn’t flee. She wants to keep up with me! Swimming, flailing her wings, she does anything to push herself forward and up, across and out of the water. My human legs prevail, but on the way back she tries again: this time her flaps lift her off the water and forward – almost flying! But she loses it, dips to the water and gives up. I thought running was hard.

Wild Rice Lutheran Church, Flom, MN – 11:00am
Today I run from the church where my great-great-grandmother was confirmed after she arrived from Norway. I slip and slide away from the church on the gravel. The only thing louder than the rocks shifting under my feet is the wind. Today it’s like a companion; I can hear it, feel it, but it comforts me more than it slows me. The road dips into a ravine, my friend leaves and in its stead a slight stench of cow. Up on the higher plain, I realize that the fallow fields I thought I saw on the way in are far from empty. Neat rows of what was once a crop line straw-strewn canals of dry, dark dirt. The rows look stagnant when I turn my head to see them – I move, bounce, but the greenery does not. But, looking forward, I can see their lines and the rows point to the horizon, drawing me ahead.

~Maren Hulden

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