The morning star hangs above my neighbor’s house and I can just make out his roof line against the cloudy, blue glow of dawn. It’s late already, I should be walking by now. But it’s Sunday, I can wait a few more minutes, I can justify the procrastination. There’s still time to walk five miles before Mass, which starts today with choir rehearsal at 9:30, not 7:00.
When I was an adolescent, I played contact sports: football, ice hockey, lacrosse. In my 20s, I pumped iron, thinking I still could play sports—well, OK, soccer—if anyone asked me. In my 30s, I mostly ran, then jogged, and sometime in my mid-40s, I realized that I might want my own knees and hips when I was in my 60s. Today, at 59, I walk, and although the New England winter cold is back—15 degrees with bitter wind, after a three-day warming trend—I will walk today. I’ll put on five layers (one for every 10 degrees under 70), quality headgear, and monster mittens that make me look like a first-grader with a string around my shoulder. Then I’ll head out.
Walking is my way of waking up.
Sometimes, I wear my headset and listen to Pandora Radio, heading out to the meditative sound of Renaissance modal harmony, then slowly upping the life force, through Ollabelle to J. J. Cale (lots of Mark Knopfler and Muddy Waters) and finishing up with Tri Yann, my punk Celtic station. By the time I’m home my pulse is up, my blood pressure down, and I’m ready for the mill.
Sometimes, I listen to an audiobook. Yesterday I walked with Ransom through the Malacandran landscape of C. S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet.
Today, however, I’ll walk in silence. Listening to anything but my own heart is not the best way of waking up. In fact, I find it puts me back to sleep.
Walking—in the dark and especially in silence—is the antidote to everything soothing, numbing, narcotizing in our common life today. Walking before dawn puts me back in front of myself and the deepest questions of my heart. It poses me to myself as a traveler, a guy on a solo trek through an unseeable landscape with an imperfect sense of direction. I can fill the silence and solitude with music or the voice of C. S. Lewis, but I am best off listening to my heart alone.
Best thoughts and insights come unexpectedly while I’m walking alone in the dark, most often on the homestretch, don’t ask me why. This week while walking, my older daughter came into my mind, and by the time I had reached home I had determined to write her a sonnet for her 25th birthday. Believe me, when your daughter is 25 and as independent as my beloved older daughter, you look for new and unusual ways to show your love. So, as I hadn’t done since the first years of my marriage, when I wrote a poem for my wife on just about any occasion, I wrote a sonnet for my daughter.
That poem was too private to publish, but just so you don’t think I’m full of shit, here’s another sonnet I wrote and posted yesterday. Perfect meter, near perfect rhyme. Don’t ask me where it came from, but I may write another one today. Writing a sonnet with perfect Miltonian form is great exercise, like playing tennis with a net, as Robert Frost sort of said. Tennis is a game I can still play, though badly.
I may write another sonnet today, but only after my morning walk, or maybe my afternoon nap. It’s Sunday, after all. The morning star is gone, and the sky is full bright. Time to get my ass and heart in gear.