Run with Me: Back to School

In a chilling February wind, I venture forth into early sunlight.

“Around the school circle five times is two miles,” my daughter tells me.

Two miles—easy run—compared to the 350 miles that separates me from my daughter during the school year.

We’ve made this trip through the Deep South to deliver a La-Z-Boy® rocker that fits in our sedan, fits in her dorm room and fits in our hearts. Purchased by my husband when single, the oatmeal-tufted chair continues to give comfort through our family growing.

I stare at the row of windows that make up the girls’ dorm. The school implements exercise into the students’ routine, but my daughter has never taken to running the way I have. Knowing she’s awake, moving muscles somewhere, inspires me to continue as the wind taunts my sleepy eyes.

On my first lap, I meet a few walkers wearing parkas. Smart students. Last night, we drove on campus amidst raindrops and thunder. Fog seeped into my restless sleep. Mississippi? I’ve never used the word chill in the same sentence. Until this morning.

Two laps ‘round, a dirt road lures me off the mundane circle. “No Trespassing: Private Property,” a sign warns, turning me from a small plane parked on an airstrip to the west. Sun rays invite me through pines that whisper farewell as I turn back towards the circle.

Wanting to explore more, I stop and ask a man encased in a down jacket if he works here.

“I’d never call it work,” he replies.

He directs me to a dirt road leading to what locals call the Back Forty. As my feet navigate puddles from last night’s storm, two horses rush the fence, neighing hopefully. “My daughter will bring food soon,” I think aloud. As a school work opportunity, she’s cared for the horses in drizzle and cloud-stacked sunshine.

A path lined with light posts beckons. A thick layer of needles reduces puddles. My footsteps slow as I come upon a stone amphitheatre and realize this is the school’s outdoor chapel. A song sighs through the surrounding Longleaf pines. Did the workers understand that the layered needles also encourage a quiet spirit?

I return to the dirt road, following honeysuckle stars strewn along the path, caught unawares in yesterday’s blow. I cross a wide ditch, where last night’s raindrops have carved canyons. I remember carving storied canyons as a child on a similar roadside.

Since my legs aren’t ready to cry uncle, I turn towards a challenging hill. I spy raccoon, dog and deer tracks in the mossy clay. A warming sun infuses me with enough energy to cross the scrabble surface.

At the top of the hill, the airstrip again hints at far-off adventure. I decide to run between several rows of blueberry bushes, knowing I won’t make it to the Back Forty. I watch my step amidst ant hills, holes and jagged weeds along the grass avenues. Dainty purple star flowers outlay a polka-dot carpet.

I look up in answer to a small band of whinnying horses across the airstrip. Their manes toss in the wind, and I can’t see the low electric fence that encloses them. Imagining them free, I, too, toss my head. I turn towards my own band—and home.