We observe Daylight Saving Time where I live which means turning the clocks back an hour in fall and forward an hour in spring. Last month we turned the clocks back. For many years, this day vied with Christmas as my favourite. I could sleep an extra hour! Of course, it never worked out that way. I’d stay up an extra hour instead.
Turning the clocks back favours morning people. The extra light is noticeable only to early risers. For the rest of us, the sun is setting an hour earlier. At this time of year, that means around 5:00 pm.
For the last several months, I’ve been walking Benny in the early evening, before dinner. More often than not, those walks were during that special time of day when the western sun’s angle added golden tones to the greens of spring and summer and highlighted the multi-coloured facets of autumn. It was a terrific time of day to take photographs and simply enjoy the surroundings.
This year, I was not looking forward to turning the clocks back. I’m a napper. I need to conk out for 40-60 minutes most afternoons. I blame my Dad. He was one too. Somehow though, my five siblings were spared this minor family curse.
Anyhow, my usual nap time is from about 5 pm to 6. Even before the clocks were turned back, the latter half of our walks were happening in dusk. Now, with it, it would be pitch dark.
That first evening after the time change, my thoughts matched the surrounding gloom. It was a cloudy night so there was no help from moon or stars. I could see just well enough to avoid a misstep. It was difficult to keep Ben in view, so for the most part, we stayed on the paved portion of the path.
As I did some mental math, trying to figure out when it would be light again at this time of day, I listened to the burbling of the nearby creek. Actually, it wasn’t all that nearby - probably more like 50 or 60 feet. I didn’t recall hearing it from this particular part of our route before.
Then I became aware of the night breeze whispering through tall grass and tree branches. It sounded like distant surf or the sighing exhalations of a sleeping giant. As we approached the southernmost part of the walk, the hum of highway traffic underlaid the songs of the creek and the wind.
And I began to realize anew what I’d forgotten during the longer days of Spring, Summer and Autumn: the charms of walking in the dark.
My hearing was more acute in order to compensate for reduced vision. In a very real sense, as one’s field of view diminishes, the world shrinks. Because there’s nothing much to distract me or occupy my senses, it’s easy for my attention to drift inward. In some respects, it’s like walking in a bubble. I can examine thoughts without interruption. Encounters with other walkers, unlike the other months of the year, are rare. My daydreams, encouraged by the surrounding dark, become more fanciful.
But some nights aren’t dark at all. When the sky is clear, the moon is full and snow blankets the ground, it’s quite bright out. Yet the brightness is much different from that of daylight. What it lacks in warmth it makes up for in magic. Shadows abound. Homely, barren scrub trees are lent a ghostly beauty. Snow, ice and running water have a silvery sparkle quite different from the golden one of the sun.
But I’d be remiss if I left you folks with the impression that these evening forays were all soft-focus, romantic wonder.
It’s often really frickin’ cold out there and the footing can be treacherous. Walking, head down, into wind-whipped freezing sleet while trying to stay upright on ice isn’t particularly fun. Especially when you have to look around every 30 seconds to try to keep tabs on a small, four-legged perpetual motion machine. (Who happens to be the reason you’re out there in the first place.)
That’s when having a wee drop of belly-warmer in a small flask can come in handy. The small, inner glow of warmth, illusory or not, takes a bit of the sting out of winter’s bite.
And, like the guy who hits his head against a wall because it feels so good when he stops - arriving back at a warm house, cheeks burning and hands numb - is a pleasure worthy of the pain it took to get there.
From the winter solstice (Dec.21st) onward, the days will grow slightly longer. By March, Ben and I will be walking in the light again. And I’ll appreciate it, if only for its promise of warmer days to come.
Until then, I’ll bundle up and enjoy walking on a winter’s night.