Dark Days


Mornings are dark now. I wake and the sun has not risen. Soon the darkest days will be here. Should I rise and head out into the world when the light cannot be seen? When darkness tucks itself into shrubs and flows over the river and settles on the frosted meadow?  The coming solstice is a time to celebrate the return of light. These days, I am not so hopeful.

In the wee hours of November 9th I checked the news. Then I deleted a few news apps from my phone, the tool I have used to get most of my news. I needed a break from news. I have since then read little, listened little, watched little. I just couldn’t handle it. For my mental health I had to leave the broader world behind for a bit.

In the past I have been disappointed, even surprised, at election results. I have been on the losing side and figured things wouldn’t go the way I would like for a little while. A bummer, but that’s politics. Sometimes you just don’t win. But I always had faith in the process. I had faith in my country. I tend to believe people are good, whether at the voting booth or on the street. Sure, people make bad choices sometimes. We all do. But overall I have believed in the collective good. My faith has been shaken now. This election was not just about a “difference of opinion” but about deciding who we are as a nation. I am struck by what I see.

It is not easy to write when I do not know who will read what I write. I am tired of the demonizing of the “other” or those on the “other side” due to conflicting beliefs. I am happy to disagree with someone if we can try to understand each other. That makes for healthy communities. I don’t want everyone to think the same way. We need to pool all ideas to come up with a few good ones. But now I am not so sure it is even safe to say what I feel.

Our president-elect has done things that are blatantly immoral, unethical, even cruel, and he has accused others of those same trespasses. He has lied and lied and then called his opponents liars. He represents all that is mean and spiteful and selfish. I believe that kindness matters more than most things. Perhaps it is the most important thing. Yet I have seen no kindness from the man who will be our nation’s leader.

I understand why others sought someone who challenged the current order, why change seems necessary to so many, why the circumstances of so many people in the United States are not what they could be. I understand the appeal of someone who seems to speak frankly, who speaks differently, who says things so many people have wanted to say but felt they could not. I get it. But this is not the guy to bring that kind of change.

He will bring change, I have no doubt. But a man whose goal is his own glory will not bring the change we need to make this nation or the world or neighborhoods or communities better places to live. He will bring the kind of change that my children’s generation will have to spend decades trying to fix. We can disagree on how to make positive change. I welcome that. If we disagree on the solution it means we are asking the same question, that we are seeing the problem together. I have no faith that our president-elect has any idea what questions to ask. I have no faith that he believes in the value of asking questions at all.

I say all this taking the risk that you might read this, find yourself disagreeing, and toss slings and arrows my way. So be it. When the days get dark, we need to believe that light will return. This is my candle. Lighting a candle in the darkness can bring hope. It makes one visible, perhaps vulnerable, perhaps a target. But right now, I need hope. I want to believe there are others out there who are willing to light their own candles. I want my nation to be one that celebrates tolerance and kindness. A little light would help right now.

I have been unsure how to approach this space. I could not simply pretend that all is well, that I live in a place untouched by the rest of the nation or the world. I could not write simply about the beauty of falling snow or the glow of the frost in the morning or the smell of fresh bread. I will write about those things because we need them, because we need to see the wonder that surrounds us every day, because those kinds of things make life meaningful. I needed to acknowledge, however, that there is some darkness behind those things now. I can only trust that the days will get longer, that one day spring will arrive again.

Dark Early


Mid-November it gets dark early. I drove home tonight in the near-dark while the sun set in its rose-colored glory. The crescent moon hung lonely in the sky. Silhouettes of trees, bare branches reaching for the cobalt sky, lined up on the horizon.

Years ago I worked as an outdoor educator. We did group programming into November. On those late fall days we would be putting away equipment in the shed, sometimes struggling to see. The shed had no power but it did have a kerosene lantern that helped, if we cared to use it. We hung ropes and stored belay devices in the shadows, walking out into the twilight after a day outside, feeling the damp and the dark.

These days I spend much less time outside. That is too bad. I appreciated the world more then. I felt I was in the world more. Now I spend more time in windowless spaces and in cars than outside. The world ticks past without me in it. I step outside after a day with too much time at a desk or at a computer screen. I do not notice the leaves falling quietly onto hemlock needles as much as I did.

But I do see the world. I notice what I can. The sky was so beautiful this afternoon I had to stop my car, get out and look up at the moon. I wanted to see it without the window as filter. I wanted, if just for a moment, to be in the world. So I parked on the side of the road, near the top of a hill, and I looked west, the light fading, the darkness pulling the stars from their berths, and I simply stood there.


That’s what it was–bitter. The wind, I mean. At 6:00 in the morning, eleven degrees, the wind came out of the north and bit. So maybe biting would be a better descriptor. It certainly was nibbling at my cheeks. My run today took me west, then north, then back the way I came. So the first quarter meant wind on only my right side. Then it came right at me. Then my left side took the hit. At least it made me move a little faster. I have to admit I was concerned about frostbite, and so I was ready to head back home at any point. I had no neck gaitor. But it worked out.  I was moving fast enough that my face was flushed the whole time. And the rest of me was covered. Duh.

Here is the thing. It was crazy beautiful this morning. All those bright stars on the deep blue sky. The moon was long set so they glimmered. Mars and Saturn danced up there, too. And by the time I got home a hint of pink was spread across the Green Mountains to the east. OK, it was cold. And dark. But daggone, I love being up at that time of day. It isn’t easy to get out of bed, but it is way worth it. I think I’ll do it again tomorrow. Of course, if I want to take the time to run I kind of need to run that early, but I will enjoy it once I get out there. That is pretty much what always happens. I am hoping it won’t be quite such a face pincher tomorrow. But at this point, what does it matter? I seem to have gotten used to it. I do look forward to more light in the early hours but for now, this will do.

Shortest Day

It was hard to get up again this morning. Of course, I had stayed up late to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, the annual viewing that couldn’t be put off. And I did get up at 5:30. And it was dark on this solstice morning. But I did it, and was rewarded with bright stars and a good run, despite the dusting I got by a few passing cars. After I got home, the sky turned pink before the sun peeked over the mountains at about 7:40.

The sun stayed out most of the day. It was a cold one but it did get up to 23 degrees. Heat wave. It was bee-yoo-ti-ful in the afternoon, short as the afternoon was. The sun shone on the snow in the mountains. And the sky was clear. It was good for a peramble out into the field with my son. We ogled the view:

A Little Snow Close, A Lot of Snow Up High

Camel’s Hump was wearing her finest. Here is what she looked like a little closer:

Snow on the Hump

We followed some coyote tracks for a while. They were old and faded and disappeared on us. And we saw turkey tracks as well:

Prints in the Snow, Turkey

The days get longer every day now. I was envisioning, literally, running in the morning without a light. It will be nice to be able to run faster since I won’t be afraid of slipping on ice. It will be nice to not worry as much about being seen by drivers. It will be nice to see what is around me a little more. I love the darkness, and heck, I’ve got lots of it left. It will be a couple of months before I’m looking at brighter mornings at the hour I get up. The sun will rise again tomorrow. The days will go on. Happy solstice. Let’s celebrate some light.

Another Cold Day

OK, I should have taken a trip to the dump today.  I should have gone to the hardware store to get some salt for our water softener. Some new wiper blades would be a good idea, too. But I did not get in the car today. I stayed home, stoked the fire, and went for a run. I read for a while, I ate breakfast, I drank coffee. I played with my kids. But I did not go anywhere. It was too cold. It was one degree when we woke this morning. The high temperature for the day was 16.

Saturday usually is my day for a long run. I would have preferred to go in the morning but I thought it prudent to wait until the temperature got to at least ten. I ran during the warmest time of the day which, as I mentioned, was not especially warm. I had a good run, however. I had to keep taking my gloves or my hat or both off and then don them again. I was cool at a couple of points, where the wind cut across a field, but mostly I was good to go. The danger was not the cold but the dust. Every time a car passed, and there were more cars than usual of course, a cloud of fine dust would rise and hover over the road. I used my hat or a glove when they were off as a mask but otherwise I was sucking in particulates.

Tomorrow will be cold again. And the next day. And the next day. I got my nine miles in today but I will run again in two days. It will still be cold. Tuesday’s high is forecast to be 11 at least. Winter has, indeed, arrived. Monday is the start of celestial winter but December 9th was the start of meteorological winter–the first of the 91 historically coldest days of the year.  A little snow would be nice. They are getting slammed down south, but we got diddily squat. Maybe next week, if weather tracks north, we will see some white stuff.

Right now we’ve just got ice. And dust. Despite this, in the darkest time of the year, we are doing well in this house. The solstice is just about here, and Christmas. In this warm house, amid the cold and dark, we are happy campers.

Two Cold Mornings

Two days ago I one again got up in the wee hours and donned the old running duds and ran in the dark, before everyone else in the house was awake. It was cold, the coldest morning yet this winterish season–18 degrees. I dressed warmly and got out quickly. Too quickly it turns out. The thing you need to know about our house is that it is open. I get everything set up the night before in part to save time but more importantly to be quiet. I leave my toothbrush on the counter so I don’t have to open the drawer (it squeaks) and I don’t want to be pulling anything out of anywhere since every noise seems to clang throughout the house when it is dark.  So there’s that, plus it was cold.

I knew it would be cold, of course, since I pay attention to the forecast. I have run when it is cold many times, but this was the first cold morning I would be running. I made sure to dress appropriately. Unfortunately I forgot one important thing. As I was walking down the driveway, guided by the beam of my headlamp, things seemed to look fuzzy. I blinked. Still fuzzy. I closed one eye–clear as can be. I closed the other eye–blurry as a painting of an octopus in a mud puddle. I had forgotten to insert one of my contact lenses.

So what to do? Go back in and make all kinds of noise to put it in? Or run with only one good eye. I did not go back inside. It was an interesting run. It was chilly but I was dressed for it, so that wasn’t an issue. I was too distracted by my eye sight to be cold, anyway. I kept closing one eye, then the other, back and forth. And it was slippery. I was afraid I would miss something. My binocular vision was compromised, so I had to be careful. I did make it home safely. I found my contact lens in the case. And I put it in for the rest of the day.

I took yesterday off but ran this morning. I took yesterday off partly because it was going to be a lot colder. It was a lot colder–two degrees at its lowest, and that was right when I would have headed out to run. So I waited a day. It was forecast to be slightly warmer at first, but then the forecast was for possible sub-zero temperatures. Screw it, I said to myself, I’m going anyway. And I did. I dressed for a cold morning, too–several layers but not too many, I hoped. The last thing I wanted to do was sweat a lot, then have my sweat freeze me right up. So I was ready.

I remembered to correct my vision before I left this morning. Then I checked the temperature. Sure enough, it was cold. Five degrees. So it was a little warmer than yesterday after all. The wind blew, however, so I had to be ready for the old wind chill factor. I was good–warm enough and feeling healthy. But the run was not without its own issues.

Our driveway is icy. A little snow, a couple of cars smashing down that snow  a whole bunch, some wind and not a lot of sun–that is how one creates the old icy driveway. I knew this, so I was careful to stay to one side, out of the slippery ruts. I mean, it was dark this morning. Even with a headlamp, we’re taking limited visibility. So, trying to be extra careful, I decided to walk in the middle of the driveway, where it might be least slippery. On the way from the edge to the middle, however, I managed to slip, fall hard, and hurt myself.

I didn’t hurt myself badly, mind you, so I kept going. My had was stinging underneath my sandy glove, and my elbow was sending nerve impulses to my brain warning of a bruise to be expected. My ego was bruised as well, so I grumbled slightly. But I just started running and hoped to forget about it. That didn’t happen right away, of course, because I noticed, in the meager light of my headlamp and through my black glove, blood seeping through. That blood had turned to frost by the time I got back home, and it still hurt then, despite the cold.

Sure enough, I had a fine abrasion on my hand, along with a small avulsion. When my son saw it he backed away with a look of horror, asking “What’s that?” The price of glory, my boy, the price of glory. The had still seeps and the elbow still throbs, but I went running this morning. Five miles. At least I can say I did that, eh?

Seriously Soggy

When I woke, too early to get up, I could hear the rain dripping off the eave onto the deck. It was coming down hard. It was too early to get up because I didn’t want to get up yet. I was tired. It was dark. It was raining. I could have stayed in bed. And I did for a while–until 5:30. Then I rose in the glow of the night light and dressed myself and headed downstairs.

I tied my running shoes, slipped on a windbreaker and a billed hat, strapped my headlamp in place and…headed to the kitchen to get some more water. Then I checked the temperature again. Then I had to get going. The clock was ticking. So I stepped outside and found that the rain had stopped. Well, it had almost stopped. It was spitting at me as I started getting a pace on and rolled down the driveway.

It held off for a while. I got almost three miles before it really started to rain again. The fog had gotten thick, so I had turned off my headlamp. There was enough light and enough open road that I could turn it back on if a car approached. My pants were nearly scared right off when I encountered a person, I think it was a man, at the end of his driveway. “Hello,” he said as I was just upon him. All I could muster in my startledness was a blurted “How’s it going?” as I trotted past.

And then the rain started in again, gently at first, but steady. Then it got serious. I was pretty much soaked by the time I got home. Dripping. It was fairly warm–about 45 degrees–so I wasn’t all that cold but I was chilly enough. As I walked back up the driveway I had a mini-fantasy that my wife had started a warm fire and brewed some coffee, that I did not have to go to work after all and that I could sit (in dry clothes) with a warm mug and a good book and listen to the rain while I read.

Didn’t happen. The sun did come out today, after a struggle. I felt happy to have gotten out there early, however. It was early, it was dark, it was chilly, and it was raining. “Get out there and run anyway,” I told myself. And I did. And tomorrow? I plan to do it again, whatever the weather.

Rain and Dark

I didn’t run the past two days but I got up and went this morning. It was raining. Hard. And it was dark. And I was sleepy. Did I want to go? Not really, but I did anyway.

It was pouring. Just dumping, really. And, it being late November, it was dark at 5:30. And the clouds made it darker. I dressed, slowly, and stood on the porch.

I did that for a few minutes, stood there that is. I watched the rain drip off the eave through the beam of my headlamp. I was going to get mighty wet. And then I stepped onto the gravel and off I went.

It was chilly, as you can imagine. Not what I would call cold, but nothing warm about it. I was still sleepy, eyes half shut as I navigated the puddles in the driveway.

I was thinking I might go five or six miles. I only went four. I was chilled, I tell you.  It was a decent run. I was home before I knew it. I had to pay so much attention to my feet that I hardly noticed where I was. Plus, it got foggy. I couldn’t see more than a ten feet in front of me.

I was soaked by the time I got home. Dripping. I was thinking that what I wanted at that moment was to a warm cup of coffee and a warm fire. But that wasn’t happening. I could make some coffee and start a fire, but by then it wouldn’t have the same effect. So I took a warm shower and got ready to head to work.

Tomorrow maybe eleven miles?  It should be cloudy but not raining like this morning. We’ll see. This is a somewhat easy week anyway. But I would like to go fairly long. I’ll see what happens when I wake up. I can decide then.

Afraid of Coyotes?

I shouldn’t be. I mean, I’m a grown man and they are more afraid of me than I am of them. But a couple of weeks ago a woman in Canada was killed by coyotes while hiking.  I hear them howling in the night and find their signs in the road and sometimes right in the driveway. I have seen them only a couple of times around here. They are shy. They run away. Nonetheless, I keep thinking about this weird attack. Why would they attack someone? Coyotes just don’t do that. Well, almost never, but not never, obviously.

This morning it was dark again as I ran, and I ran down Leavensworth Road, which passes through a bower of trees at one point. I could run without a light for a good deal of my run, but in that shaded tunnel I had to turn on my headlamp. I couldn’t see what was in front of me well enough to run without a light. And I’m thinking that I have seen coyotes on that road. And I’m thinking of this tragic story. And I’m thinking of the coyotes I heard howling in the night, seemingly right outside the house. And I’m finding myself watching the woods, or what I can see of the woods. And I’m feeling not scared, exactly, but watchful.

This is silly, of course. I should more afraid of some nut job who wants to take me down and drag me off to some far off barn to torment me. I should be more afraid of getting plucked off by a speeding motor vehicle. I should be more afraid of a heart attack for Chuck’s sake. But the human brain does not work in such a rational manner in the dark when running, which, anthropologically, is something humans did in days of yore when being chased by wild beasts such as large canines. So I have a tinge of what you might call concern, even though my rational thinking is just to be happy. Not that I’m not happy. I just don’t want my abdomen ripped open by teeth designed for such business so some poor carnivorous creature can have a bloody meal.

I am not afraid of coyotes. If there were wolves around here, well, then I would be, at least at times, f***ing terrified. But coyotes? They eat bunnies and mice. OK, they eat deer, too, which are large mammals that can run a hell of lot faster than my puttering middle age upright mass of humanity. But they run away from people. They don’t eat people. I guess the coyotes up in the great white north didn’t get the memo. I makes me wonder if the ones around here have been paying enough attention. So a public note to them.

Hello, Canis Latrans, listen up: I am not breakfast and my sweaty, gristley body will not be all that tasty, even if you are just looking to survive and don’t care about gustatory satisfaction, I’m telling you you will want to eat something more to your liking, like a deer, or a bunny or two, or a nice mice plate laid out with some fruit, and maybe a little jus dipping sauce; just don’t eat me because I will punch you in the nose anyway or poke your eyes out with my opposable thumbs and use my superior brain to outwit you by hiding in a tree and I know you can’t climb trees like foxes can sometimes and just forget about me, will you, because we have guns and can kick your asses all over the place.

I am an animal lover but I wouldn’t take any coyote attack lying down, if you know what I mean. I even imagined carrying a knife with me when I was running this morning. Sheesh. Even if I might taste like it, I’m no chicken. If you see any coyotes around here, tell them that for me, will you?

Time on the Roads

I can’t say that I have had an easy time each morning I have risen to get a run in. Take this morning, for example. I was tired and fuzzy and hungry when I finally got out of bed, and let me tell you that was not quick process. It was dark. Clouds covered the early light and the half moon high in the sky. It was windy. I shuffled out of bed and changed into running duds. The temperature was 52 and thought, did I read that right? It was warm. So I put on shorts and long sleeves and slapped on a headlamp and a reflector vest and out I went.

My friend Pat, who is a fast enough runner to win now and again, once said to me, when I asked him how he keeps up the training pace, “There are many days when I just do not want to go for a run, but every time I do, I have a great experience.” What he meant was this: it may be hard to get started, but once you do get started, you won’t regret it.  That is pretty much spot on. Today was one of those days. Since it was dark, and the windows on the house are closed these days, I was imagining how cold it was going to be. It is November, and most dark mornings are cold. I recently ran when the temperature was in the 20’s.  This morning, however, was what you might call pleasant.

I had to use my headlamp for a bit. Cars and potholes make me cautious. But much of the way I ran in the almost-dark. It is a bit surreal at times to run when the wind blows and you can’t quite see what lies at the roadside–is that the shadow of a stump or a skunk?–and it is only you and your feet and your breathing and the road ahead. I  love that. A warm morning helps. I stopped for a couple minutes on the bridge over the river, to listen and to look at the shadowed water. It was, to use a word many shiver to utter, lovely.

I will keep doing it, this rising early to run. Some days I will go farther than others. Some days I will hop up eager to pull in some miles. Some mornings I will rise because I know I will be happy I do so even though I just don’t want to in that moment. But I rarely wish I hadn’t gotten up early to run. Only a couple of times have I been too preoccupied with my mental detritus that I would have been better off staying in bed for a while longer. But then again, I probably wouldn’t have slept anyway. In the end, I might as well just get up and go.

I am still wrangling with a bad cough and a bit a stuffed head. I look forward to that passing so I have a little more energy when I get out there in the wee hours, even if I haven’t had breakfast yet. Breakfast, by the way, tastes pretty good once you’ve already been outside for an hour or so. And who doesn’t like a good breakfast? I sit at the table, my mind clear and my muscles feeling good, and I look out at the view and look forward to the day. It may be hard to get up some days, but the time is well spent.

November View

November Morning at Breakfast