The sun already set, not below the horizon, but behind the cauliflower clouds, a halo hanging just above the earth. Orange-brown light bled through the thin spots like an iodine stain and rimmed the crest with a subtle ember glow. The entrance to my trail shrouded by the gloom.
I was late, too late. Helping Eli with his homework, I let the evening slip by. I saw the clock and snapped: “You’re on your own. I need to go run.” Ten minutes later, I stood with my car at the trail-head, contemplating my usual route, wondering what would happen if I ran the woods in the dark. Across the street, another option, an out-and-back winding across a field. I avoid this trail. Too public, too many horses.
This night I chanced the field. The horse-back riders probably long gone, heading home for a late dinner and a glass of wine. I started at a trot, my only warm-up. No stretching, no high-knees, just the short drive from my house. My muscles already loose, the temperature hovered close to ninety.
Gaining speed as I churned up the half-mile slope leaving the stream-valley that parallels the roadway, thick, watery air caressed my cheeks and arms, comforting, but difficult to breath. My shirt and shorts already clinging with sweat.
Out across the field, a dirt path gashed through the end-of-season grass, waist-high, gone to seed, harboring countless rabbits and a family of white-tail deer. The critters bounded away at my intrusion on their evening meal. The twilight deepened as I rounded a farm-house and followed my trail into the woods, worrying a bit about the descending darkness and the knowledge that I was still running away from my car.
As I turned to retrace my steps, I pushed up my sleeves and twisted at my shorts trying to reduce the friction of my soaking clothes. My sodden ball-cap, fully saturated, couldn’t absorb any more sweat. Rivulets streaked my face and glasses. The rhythm of my feet striking the disappearing trail broke the silence of the twilit dusk. Mid-field, I once again disturbed the grazing deer. They scattered through deep grass and over a decorative wooden fence to perceived safety.
Gliding down-hill towards the stream, I shivered. Despite the temperature, my wet clothes sapped my heat. My muscles, tapped of energy, prematurely began to cool. As I recrossed the stream, I walked—unable to see the water and trip-stones clearly in the dark.
Back at my car, I realized that night had settled over the park. I had a momentary flash of panic that my family might be worried about my safety. As I returned to my calm, well-lit house, I tried to match my family’s mood—they were in social mode. Eli done with his homework; Sophie taking a break from hers; Susan, her evening responsibilities complete, holding court in a good-natured conversation. Instead, I retreated, alone, to my screened-in porch, quietly drinking a glass of water.