Complete darkness surrounds me when I step outside this morning at 5:30.  I take a few tentative steps, then begin a slow trot, trying to adjust to running by feel.  It has been almost 30 years since I have gone for a run in the dark.  A streetlamp casts a pool of light when I reach the corner and I look down automatically to see the surface of the road.  My shoes are worn almost to the bare soles and so I can feel the pavement underfoot. Trusting the sensory capabilities of my feet gives me a sense of safety as I move forward into the coming dawn.

As I run down the hill onto Old Garden Road, I look up and see a million stars twinkling in the sky.  I imagine I am treading on stardust, which pleases the poet in me.  I run past another streetlamp and again look down to see where I am stepping but before I can register what lies ahead, I am beyond the light and on my own again.

I run without music this morning,  listening for the soft growl or step of a coyote.  This time of day belongs to that grey, prowling hunter, this time before the streets fill with cars and trucks and bikes, runners and dog-walkers and school children waiting for their buses.  There is an abundance of coyotes in this area of town.  I’m not usually afraid of them, but I feel vulnerable today— out so early and alone.  A small can of pepper spray clips onto the waistband of my shorts and my hand flutters close to it—  ready just in case.

I hear footsteps and strain to see who is out here with me.  I see a flash of pink that, as I get closer,  becomes two elbows pumping up and down and then, as she runs beneath a light, the figure of another runner.  I am approaching fast and cannot decide if I should speak.  I don’t want to scare her, and my footsteps are so quiet in my soft, worn sneakers that I’m anxious she won’t hear mine over her own.  As I come upon her left side, I clear my throat and she quickly turns her head.  I see relief in her postural silhouette and I say good morning.  She returns my greeting, then says she is glad to see me.

“It’s kind of creepy out here in the dark.”

“Yeah, a little, but also lovely.  Look at the stars!”

I pass her and look up again myself, but dawn is breaking and the stars have all but faded back into the early morning sky.

As I turn onto Eden Road, I find myself slowing, hoping for a little more light before I reach the part of the road that is patched, pocked, and gravelly.  The sky above the Twin Lights on Thacher Island glows a faint peachy-white, but the surface beneath my feet remains nearly invisible.  Each footfall seems a risk to plummet off of the edge of the earth.  I try to stop thinking about falling and trust my feet and balance to help me along.  I look ahead and see another runner.  It’s my friend Susie, bright and fresh at the start of her run.  She is stunned to see me out this early.  Like the coyotes, this is her time and I am an intruder.  I usually see her when she is well on her way, or even on her return loop.  We barely chat— I want to grant her privacy as she begins her warm up.

As I turn onto Penzance and down the hill by Loblolly Cove, I focus on the sounds around me.  I can hear the peepers in the marsh, their low, soft song like a thousand heartbeats.  I hear frogs croaking their rubber band tune in the shallow water; the timothy grasses whisper their secrets in my ear.  I take my hand, brush it against the long, bent reeds that reach out over the pavement and bring the moisture from their tips to my mouth.  The cool drops taste of earth and salt and peace.

I can see a bit more as I move along the wooded section of Penzance.  I have seen the coyotes on this stretch before, even in broad daylight.  I reach to my hip and grasp the can of pepper spray.  I hold it in my hand until I reach Pebble Beach.  Safe, I put it back and look out to the sea.  The waves roll in gently; white foam licks the edge of the sand.  Cambourne Pond is still in the early morning light; the ducks must still be tucked into their nests, hugging their beds until the sun peeks up across the road.  The sky is blooming like a rose, peach and pink, opening its petals to the day.  The rosa rugosa nestled into the sand beside the road have all but stopped their blooming; the round orange rose hips hang dry and tired from showing off on the hot summer days.

I return by the long loop of Marmion Way.   The street is now clearly visible beneath me; all my stardust has swept away by the light of this new day.  Each stride has an urgency rooted in the desire for speed.  I decide to finish the run with sprint intervals and I focus on the long, slow hill.  I attack it brutally, panting and sweating, pushing harder and harder until I can feel my legs begin to tremble.  I back off and trot when I reach the top and turn toward home.  There is deep pleasure in today’s ragged breath, in the secrets of the timothy grass, and in the delicate, twinkling residue on the soles of my shoes.

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2 Comments on “Stardust”

  1. Craig Says:

    “I take my hand, brush it against the long, bent reeds that reach out over the pavement and bring the moisture from their tips to my mouth.  The cool drops taste of earth and salt and peace.” I love that passage. What an adventure you had while I dozed. The combination of tranquility and trepidation is palpable.

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