Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Walking in the Dark

New England can’t decide what season to be right now. Many trees are still leafed out in green, as in high summer. On the ground, to the windward of every obstacle, clusters of fallen leaves say it’s autumn. But the weekend’s freak snowfall has left what my friend Michael called angel droppings, still frozen in piles two days later. So is it winter? Late winter? Verging back into spring?

New England may not know what season it is, but I do. Today is November 1, All Saints Day to many, the start of hunting season to others. For me, this starts the season of walking in the dark.

I am a walker, I’ve made that clear. My goal is to walk five miles a day. That may sound like a lot, but I will have to ramp it up next spring as I prepare to walk El Camino de Santiago with my daughter.

Last fall, a year ago, I started wondering once again what I would do in the winter, when the sidewalks are treacherous and the wind chill falls below zero. I suffocate without walking. I am just not a health club guy.

One day I ran into Colleen, another member of the morning walking club in our neighborhood (no rules, no dues, we just see each other now and then). Colleen told me that she had walked five miles a day for a year and a half without missing a day. I asked how that was possible, what with the ice and wind chill from Thanksgiving thru March. Hers were true words of wisdom. Colleen said, “You just have to suck it up.”

But—but—where do you walk? I asked.

“In the street, where it’s salted. You go out before dawn and the only cars on the road are delivering newspapers, and they’re few and far between.” My male pride couldn’t bear being told to suck it up by such a fair colleen. I started walking in the dark.

Today, November 1, I knew I shouldn’t put it off any longer. I awoke at 3:45, said naaaaah, fell back to sleep, had a weird theater dream (most of my weird dreams concern theater), and woke up again at 4:07 by the digital clock. My body said, suck it up, so I walked. I walked in the dark.

There are benefits to walking in the deep dark before dawn. You notice things you wouldn’t otherwise. For example, you notice that the world appears different looking up compared with looking down. Walking up the middle of the road—getting out of the way of lone delivery vehicles long before they see you—you can look up in safety. Walking on the sidewalk in daylight, you’d look stupid, and you’d slam into stuff. But in the dark, no problem. The street is smooth, the traction good. You can look up through the trees, with and without leaves, to the sky above.

This morning was partly cloudy, but most of the stars were out. It is easy to believe that the stars are saints when you’re walking alone in the dark. They accompany you whether the sky is clear or cloudy, and even when the bright sun of day renders them invisible.

As I passed Paradise Road, which runs near the Jewish cemetery on one of my favorite routes, I looked up to see low-lying cumulus reflecting the city glow of Boston to the south. No stars were visible in that direction, with its glare, but I knew they were there too.

You see an amazing number of TV and computer screens lit at lonely windows when you walk in the dark. The neon fishtank glow gives them away, leading to thoughts of lonely web surfers and insomniacs, sitting without company, absorbed in imagery. It’s a sad vision.

Almost everyone is asleep, though, and you’re awake. Maybe you’re listening to Gregorian chant via Pandora piped through your earbuds. Maybe you’re saying a rosary, or a chotki, reciting the Jesus Prayer over and over. Or maybe you’re just listening to the beat of your own heart while you look up.

It has always reassured me to know that people are praying while I am sleeping—the monks and nuns rising to say the Office in dim chapels around the world, keeping the lamp lit, keeping the prayer wheel turning. This morning I was one of them, or with them, perhaps while you were sleeping. I will be doing the same again tomorrow, so long as I can continue sucking it up.

1 comment:

  1. way to go dad. there's something i love, too, about getting up before the sun to go do something active. somehow i've become a morning person -- or rather, a person who likes the morning -- and I'm starting to think it's because that, that early, at the start of the day, there's so much calm, and so much potential laying ahead of you for the rest of the day. Glad to hear you're starting up again! Very hardcore.

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