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Growing Pains: Running with the River

"I always loved running – it was something you could do by yourself and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs."   - Jesse Owens

Running is up there right next to “New Orleanian” on the list of things that have shaped me as a person. So, today, I’m going to tell you about a spiritual experience that includes them both. I went running with the River.

While in town last May, I set out, as I always do, acquiring satellites on my Garmin GPS watch and hopping on the streetcar tracks for yet another running adventure. However, I soon discovered, as I am sure many of you know, that the streetcar tracks have been torn up. Yet again.

Plan B found me meandering between and over oak roots, creeping like protruding veins in the ground, on the Audubon Park horse trail, across Magazine and up onto The Fly. The river was fairly high for that time of year and, as I came up on the levee, I could smell the scent of rich silt and water being churned like butter by the powerful current.

Just as I came parallel with the river, the 2010 FIFA World Cup song, “Waving Flag” came on my iPod. Maybe it was the drums, or the intro vocals, or the lyrics, but whatever it was, it struck me that afternoon running with the river.

The river, she’s beautiful. She’s a masterpiece of mother nature: majestic, mysterious, graceful, and powerful. She’s free, too.

We’ve been trying to control her for generations, particularly after the Flood of 1927. Sometimes she allows us some say, but she is very much free. She doesn’t worry about what we are going to do; no, we are the ones who must worry about her.

We live precariously situated behind a levee system that is our only real line of defense against her seasonal high waters, a fact we are all too familiar with since Katrina. Running atop the levee, running with the river, you look one way and see these delicate shotgun houses and neighbors sitting on their stoops. You look the other way and you see the river, oceangoing tankers, pilings 20 feet in diameter, power. Two wildly different worlds, separated from each other only by man’s feeble attempt to control the Mighty Mississippi.

miss riverI have picked up the book Rising Tide this summer. It's a story that everyone who calls the river and her delta home should be familiar with, and it’s an amazing one. The average flow rate of the river at New Orleans is 600,000 cubic feet per second. That’s over 37 million pounds of water passing any given point, per second. Wow.

At my summer internship I had the opportunity to look at some survey data of the river. At Algiers Point, the river is 197 feet deep; as in, you could basically sink a 20-story building in it. Wow.

Running with the river that afternoon and listening to that song, I realized how lucky I am to have her, to run with her, to live beside her. She puts things in perspective; she keeps me humble. She makes me appreciate everything I have. Because, if she felt like it, she could take it all away from me in an instant.

Elizabeth Kukla

Elizabeth Kukla writes about her experience as a native New Orleanian -- especially from afar -- for NolaVie.

Native New Orleanian Elizabeth Kukla is a student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She writes about being a NOLA girl from afar in “Growing Pains,” a weekly column at NolaVie.