Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Walking In The Dark (#183)

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.



Hilary said...

Having walked there with you many times, some of which are at night, I know what you mean. It is magical. Maybe I haven't heard the creek babbling, or the trees rustling because well, you know - you tend to talk non-stop and that distracts me from subtle sounds and from my deep inner thoughts. But I forgive you because well, you know - just your presence is a gift. I might have that all backwards but, well - you know. ;)

I am looking forward to walking there again when the moon is full and the ground is covered with snow and the sky isn't to cloud-covered. It makes for magical photos too. Nicely written.

Elizabeth Guy said...

Well done, Frank. You're a poet.

Leah J. Utas said...

Well done, Frank. Your gorgeous writing made me forget for a moment how cold it can be.

Ray Veen said...

Ditto on the well-written.

My favorite part was the 'wee bit of belly-warmer'. I'd like to nominate that line for an award but unfortutely I'm too lazy to search around for contests that reward phrases in blogs.

You do appreciate the sentiment, though, right?

Frank Baron said...

Yeah, Hil. I know. ;) Looking forward to that too. :)

Thanks Elizabeth. I didn't know it! ;)

Leah, I do believe that's the first time my writing has been described as "gorgeous." In fact, upon a millisecond's reflection, I think I can safely say that no aspect of my being has ever been thusly described. Thanks! (Hope it doesn't go to my head....)

Frank Baron said...

Hiya Ray. We overlapped there. :)

Thanks for the kind words. "Well-written" I can handle. It's no "gorgeous" but what the heck.... ;)

Michelle H. said...

You made me cold during your walk. Then you warmed me right up with the wonderful description.

What was in that flask?

Frank Baron said...

Michelle, I think that time, the flask held a 50-50 mixture of Sambucca (a licorice flavoured liqueur) and Bolivar (a coffee flavoured one). It works quite well. :)

Travis Erwin said...

I have those same sensations while hunting. It is one of the things I enjoy most.

Reb said...

I enjoy walking in the dark, I just enjoy it much more when it is warm out and you don't have to wade through thigh high drifts of snow.

Dianne said...

what it lacks in warmth it makes up for in magic - I love that!!

Frank Baron said...

Travis, I can understand that.

I hear ya Reb. Slush and snow wake up muscles in my legs that really want to stay asleep.

Glad you like it Dianne. :)

Thanks all, for the visit. :)

Shammickite said...

When my boys both lived at home and we had a dog (first Shebah the Husky, then Wendydog the Golden) we used to wait for a waaaaay below freezing cold moonlit night and take the dog out along the forest path through the bush at midnight... the moon would light our way and we could see our breath freezing as we talked. Haven't done that for years!

Frank Baron said...

Sounds like you might be due Shammi. :)

I dunno about waiting until it's THAT cold though.....

Anonymous said...

You had me wishing I lived in your neck of the woods (as Hilary always does when I read about these famous walks of yours) until the cold and treacherous part!

Frank Baron said...

Well Meredith, you gotta learn to dress properly for it, that's for sure. For instance, this morning was -25C so I put a sweater on over my T-shirt.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your post. We probably wouldn't go out walking in these freezing temperatures if it wasn't for our four-legged friends - morning, noon and night! I'm looking forward to the days getting longer. Your Ben sounds like a neat dog.

Frank Baron said...

He's a great dog April. But don't tell him I said that. He'd be insufferable. ;)

Thanks for the visit. :)