It is dawn – the blue of dawn before the world awakens. The only light is deep blue and hovers over the trees. The mountains are dressed in fog, the blue light arising behind them. I am running, panting, trying to make it up the next hill. I eventually do and light is present there, a soft yellow glow, mixed with blue, run through with fog like a swirl of cream when you make soup. I glance over at the mountains again. They seem almost as if they’re waiting. The yellow glow is coming from there and it promises I won’t be in the dark much longer. I run past horses standing very still all in a row, the fog washing over them. Spiders have lain their webs in the grass like washerwomen and they are shining with dew jewels. Haybales appear in the mist as the light arises, their edges soft like a Van Gogh painting. The air is cold, my lungs and legs hurt, and I smell wet mossy earth, rotting leaves, and the burning wood chill smell that is October. It is autumn and oddly, I’m reminded of marching band.
Since we moved to the country my world has grown infinitely smaller. From the entire metropolitan city of Pittsburgh to just one lane in our neighborhood. Now sure, I travel through Charlottesvile to work each day, but I find when I’m not working more than anything I want to be home. Nowhere else. I’ve never lived in the country, and so I’m not used to it. The silence. I’m learning to love it though. Quiet afternoons walking my dog Lois and the only noise I hear is the “slap slap” of acorns falling through the trees, hitting each leaf on the way down. We walk the woods and I’m reminded of when I was a kid, and LIVED in the woods. We’d build forts, chase each other on our bikes down the paths, pick blackberries, pretend the old farmhouse at the end of our lane across the pond housed an evil witch. Stay out way past sundown until Momma called us in for dinner. Running barefoot through grass after the dew has fallen. As corny as it sounds, I did all these things. I just forgot to miss them.
I walk these woods with Lois and the silence forces me to remember. My world has shrunk, but in my mind the memories grow and grow. I’m not old and yet feel like I’m going over my life chapter by chapter when I walk her. The silence guides me along.
Where in Pittsburgh I heard sirens, now I hear the low murmur of a cow. The squeal of a city bus has been replaced by crickets. And while this world is so much smaller in size, it’s so much greater in scope. I could walk my dog once a day for the rest of my life and each of those days I know in my heart I’d discover something new. The moment a slight breeze hits the back of my neck. The squawk of a bird calling out to the day. A tiny lizard with a bright cyan tail skittering under our front stoop. When I hear traffic now it’s like a roar, something very different that doesn’t belong. Both Lois and I perk up to see who it is. Each car is an event, a new possibility that your day will change – for the better (UPS man) or the worse (repair man). In the city those things were minutiae, here they’re something to talk about over dinner.
I’ve been learning to run, dragging my sorry ass out of bed at 6am to heave up the hills around my house. In the dark here lately, which has made it that much more difficult to force my eyelids open, all the while telling myself, “This is good for you, this is good for you,” when what I’d rather be doing is getting some shuteye. Even Lois looks at me from her bed, an expression on her face that states matter-of-factly, “What? Are you kidding?”
But once I get out there I’m glad I did. Watching a sunrise here is like nothing else on earth. And for some reason, at this moment in my life, a sunrise seems to be the most potent memory grabber of all. I watch the sunrise, watch the colors turn from blue, to light purple, to gold, red, and yellow. I smell the dew-soaked grass, and I’m transported to 7:15, any weekday morning of my teenage life in autumn. I am 15 and standing at attention in a wet field. I am cold, hungry, still half asleep, grasping an ice-cold flag pole, and about to perform my color guard routine. The flag swings through the wet grass and promptly wraps itself around my legs like a snapped towel. I am miserable and oddly at peace at the same time. It’s early, but I know this is good for me.
It never fails. Sunrise in autumn brings back marching band for me. I was a band geek all four years of high school, which meant every September saw me standing at attention at the crack of dawn, wondering what have I gotten myself into? But always glad after when we won competitions, when we went on out-of-state trips. Glad about the friendships I made. Holding tightly onto the team’s camaraderie which came at a time in my life when I really needed it. Parents fighting, separating, divorcing. Me feeling out of place in every aspect of growing up. Marching band was the refuge I hid in. Swinging that damn flag was a meditation. It brought me peace.
And here I am again in my 40’s out at the crack of dawn learning to run, wondering what have I gotten myself into? My Mom ran in the early mornings when I was a kid, even in bitter cold weather. Sometimes she’d run right past me during those early morning practices. I used to wonder what the hell she was thinking. But now I get it. I run along, struggling most of the time, but wondering at the beauty of the light. I run and remember other mornings, other autumns. And it brings me an odd sense of peace.