My transition to Iowa City from the Washington D.C. area was far less smooth than I’d hoped, for a variety of reasons, most of which are too long to get into here.

As small as my new town was, I still felt unanchored. My friends were phone calls and time zones away. I had left behind my neighbors, with whom I shared CDs and poker games that lasted into the night and parties for any occasion…or none at all. I missed my gym, where I worked out with a tight-knit community of morning exercisers and a terrific instructor who managed to be motivating and caring no matter what else was going on in her life.

I didn’t want to join any of the gyms in Iowa City—none of them seemed to fit me. Plus, even without much of a social life, it was as if I couldn’t shoehorn my workouts into my strange, new schedule. Instead of a Metro ride, I had a driving commute to factor in. Also, work starts at least an hour earlier in the Midwest than it does on the East Coast, and while I can feign morning-personness, the truth is that I’d rather sleep in.

But I had to do something, so I started going for morning runs. I had been running occasionally back in Virginia, but that was on familiar streets. In Iowa City, I had to leave the house by 6 a.m. to fit in the run, and because we were moving deeper into Fall, it seemed darker and darker each morning when I went out. I ran tentatively, unable to see the sidewalk and hoping that I wasn’t about to step in a hole and break my ankle. One morning, I stepped through a leafy tree branch that had fallen in the night, and posted the best vertical leap of my life to extract my foot. The adrenaline from the surprise carried me the rest of the way home.

Time passed, and I found a yoga and Pilates studio that I love and friends who meet me to swim. I don’t often go for a run anymore. Things got easier, and that rough transition faded into the background. I know the sidewalks in my neighborhood now, even in the dark.

Thursday morning, though, I decided to go for a run. The sun was just rising as I left, although a small, grey cloud that hung just in the sky over our front porch sprinkled me with twenty or thirty drops of rain as I walked down the front path. I headed off into the neighborhood past yard after yard bursting with irises and peonies and, in some cases, tender lettuce leaves and baby carrot tops. A robin hopped calmly out of my way on Friendship Street while more birds wheeled overhead, stretching their wings. Just when I started to get really warm, a cool breeze kicked up and took care of that. I noticed beetles skittering across the sidewalk, the way a flowering tree branch bowed under the weight of its blossoms, and a single, large-leafed plant poking up through the mulched flowerbed along the front of a house up for sale. Even though it’s only been a few weeks, my time with our garden has helped me focus on natural details I might have missed before.

While I won’t pretend that exercise is ever easy, as I ran that morning, I thought about how much easier it was than it had been those dark days when I was depeleted and exhausted and stretched. Back in October, I had let myself get so out of shape that even running a mile tore a stitch in my side. Then, I ran blindly, only able to see porches of houses where the residents left their front light on all night, angry that I couldn’t see the big picture.

In Thursday’s newborn sunlight, I ran lightly on the streets I now recognize as home.

Genie and Steve at home

Photo credit: Sharon D. Gratto


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