Joshua Wheeler

I run along the Rio Grande. I run where the river is mostly forgotten even by the
water though there is a sense of oasis still, enchantment lingering, the last gasps,
spatterings of creosote and wolfberry and yuccas with their haunches of bayonets and
still the spirit of Billy the Kid killing and fleeing through mesquite, still Coronado
lost in the dust and broke on dreams of gold, still Apaches brandishing scalps and
hollering at the heavens, still the long-faced dinosaur lumbering and my Nikes landing in
the fossils of its awkward tracks as the roadrunners dart across my path into the seepwillow
to ponder the absurdity of their wings as I sweat out whisky, cough tar, grit my teeth
and churn out six miles, seven miles in the summer burn beside the big mud snake,
through onion fields gone to seed and their stink and their blossom orbs rising like
a universe from the dust, through acres of chili tweaked in the genes to stay green but
burn hard, acres of capsaicin rising, colliding with sunrays at the height of my eyes,
nose, lips, the singe in my face and still I run for miles along the Rio Grande because
there is something primal in me—I am not fast or strong but I am becoming human
because I can run forever and you, beast, you are fast and ferocious but you have no self
control so you are not indefatigable so I chase you across the desert, I wear you down, you
collapse, I devour your flesh—this movement, shoulders rocking independent of the head,
ligaments in the feet like springs, left foot, right foot, the emergence of skin from fur
and the evolution of sweat glands like an infinite cool breeze so I can move across the
world eating and growing my beastfed brain big enough to be conscious of teetering at
evolution’s apex and then—as always with the apex: I stumble—my left Nike lands askew
in one of the awkward tracks and a small stone catches in the deep flex groove along the
outsole of my ergonomic running shoe and my ankle twists inside the sockliner and were
it not for asymmetrical lacing reducing pressure over my foot’s top ridge I might fall
all the way, crash, knock my head silly and have my eyes pecked to caves by flightshy
birds but these shoes are made of science, made to recreate the feel of barefoot running
as it was in the dusk of our apehood with the bonus of neoprene cushion and impact
absorption so I can heelstrike when my ancestors would only lean forward, struck always
on the balls of their bare feet, the natural cushion, more on their toes and leaning into
the hunger that kept them chasing prey six miles, seven miles along the big mud snake but
these featherlight foot-forming canvas mesh shoes have set us back on our heels, the
unnatural posture of the modern runner: I am not hungry. I am enacting hunger poorly or
I am terrified of the hunger. I run past the horse apple tree and the acrid smell of
dropped fruit rotting in the heat and a bullsnake with its guts exploded out both ends
and the middle of him flattened in an awkward track but it is not the track of a
long-faced dinosaur because there are no dinosaurs anymore. In the distance, spanning
the dying river, is an overpass and semitrucks roaring across. On the banks of the
dying river, in the flickering shadows of the passing semis: an army of tractors, their
mounds of dirt and the bright yellow and slick oil of heavy construction. Here come the
bulldozers and all the ground in their wake pressed into awkward tracks from the
symmetrical grooves of their steel traction belts. Here comes the future. They’re

building a road to the spaceport.

Joshua Wheeler is from Alamogordo, New Mexico. He’s a recent graduate of the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa and is the new Assistant Professor of Creative Nonfiction at Louisiana State University. The desert spaceport is real (though the road to it is still unfinished). You can read more about that in his dispatch from Spaceport America. “Recreation” is an excerpt from his book of essays, Acid West, forthcoming from FSG.