This Light

What is it about the sunrise? How is it that something that happens with such frequency still holds us spellbound. Still forces us to respect the day and know that whatever it brings is bigger than us. As the slim sliver of sunlight edges over the horizon, on it is carried thoughts of things to come. Thoughts of the day that is about to unfold and the night that will surely follow, only to give way to yet another slim sliver of light that begins it all again.

On this day I awoke wrapped in the sleeping bag that was pulled from my pack the night before. I had walked farther than I expected yesterday but the miles had rolled easy and the thought of seeing this rock that was listed in the guide book, of drove me on. I stopped at Seeley-Woodworth Shelter as most were settling in, cooking dinner and rolling out their sleeping pads and bags. I set up on the edge of the shelter and made quick work of getting dinner going. As the water boiled, I headed down to the spring. I filtered more water than I needed but knew that there was a good chance that it would be dry where I was heading.

Dinner went as it usually did at this point, quickly and leaving me wanting more. It was hard not to notice the glances cast my way as I methodically began to pack my gear. First I stacked my stove, which was still warm on top of the folded half of bandana that was placed into the bottom of the pot. Then the small wire stove stand, my single utensil and the lighter I used to start the whole process. This small kit was then stuffed into the specific void that was its home within my pack. As I prepared to shoulder my pack, the sun only a few inches over the horizon, the inquisitive stares of those around me increased. The questions formed in their minds and it was not long until they finally bubbled out almost uncontrollably.

Where are you going? There isn’t another shelter for at least 7 miles? Did I realize it was getting dark?

I did, I said. I know, I said.

But I was not ready for the day to end just yet. I wished them well. I’ll see you around, and I shouldered my pack, now one meal lighter, and walked down the trail in the funky pre-twilight light that makes even the most mundane landscape into something extraordinary.

The woods around twilight have an odd feeling. It is both a mix of stillness and of bustling activity. There are instances of utter quiet. There are instances of absolute noise. The empty quiet followed by a cacophony of chaotic chatter, unseen creatures frantically attempting to find a place to spend the night. The song of the woods near the changing of light. The sound of transition.

I move through this light quietly and like a sponge absorbing each sound. The subtle hiss of my breath, the slight and gentle thud of each foot fall on the path beneath my feet. I move on, fueled by energy from the half light and curiously seeking what is around the next bend.

I remember this light.

Soccer practice was almost over. We were scrimmaging. It was always the most exciting part of the practice, all of our hard work coming to fruition in a game time situation. None of us were exceptionally good or seemed exceptionally good. But we all had fun and played like we were all-stars. I remember the big expanse of that soccer field. The small houses of the Norwood neighborhood on the right-hand side, the woods that bordered the park, on the left.

I was running full tilt, sweating through my clothes and playing as if this was the last game of my life. The moon, a huge amber ball of the burning sun’s reflection, a harvest moon, rising through the turning fall leaves of the trees that border this field.

I remember feeling awe. Not awe for the setting sun. Not awe for the game that we were playing. Not awe for how fast or how active I felt. It was an awe and gratitude that came from my soul, from deep inside. It was an awe that was generated by a combination of each and every thing. Every blade of grass that was under my feet. Every peripheral glance at the enormous harvest moon. Every thin wisp of cloud now colored by the setting sun. Every bead of sweat that ran down my forehead or deep breath sucked in by my diaphragm. It was awe of all of it.

The game ended, not when practice was over, or the coach said so, but when it was nearly too dark to see. The sky now a deep purple with a slim line of fiery orange along the horizon. We’d all help to pack the gear, I’d hop on my bike and casually pedal home, at ease with with what the day had become.

I continue down the trail.

The half light turns from magical to mysterious. No matter how much time you spend in the woods, a metamorphosis occurs not long after the sun fully sets. In concert with this transformation the excitement of continually moving forward changes into a want to stop, a want to find a place to settle in.

The timing of my final approach to Spy Rock, could not have been planned any better. I was giddy, nearly bounding the last few steps on dirt and hopping onto the base of the big rock. After a quick scramble up to the top of the rocky knob, I picked the flattest place I could find with the best to view and started to pull out the sleeping gear. This final chore of the day was done by that familiar light. The deep violet that flooded the above and the thin sliver of fiery orange along the horizon. The slight flickering pinprick of what in total darkness would be the brightest stars, now just beginning to show in the inky sky. I Inflated the small sleeping pad and methodically pulled my bag from my pack. I balled up all of my remaining gear as I did at the end of each day into a makeshift pillow. I slid into my bag and as my head fell back I was greeted by the dome of the sky.

I was in awe. In awe of not only my location or of the miles I had traveled by foot that day to reach this resting place. In awe not of being alone way up on this high perch or this amazing trip that I was lucky enough to be taking. In awe not of my ability to shoulder the pack no matter what was put into it and simply move forward.

I was in awe of all of it. I was in awe of being alive.

As my eyes closed and the world faded around me, the feeling of unbridled joy and the deepest gratitude emanated from within; its warmth a proven barrier against the frost that would surely come.

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