In the dark.

Dear friends,

While millions of folks in the eastern U.S. sit in the dark, I am happily illuminated. But recently, I’ve been re-thinking what it means to be “in the dark.”

You see, I’m running again. I’ve always been a morning runner and since I re-started my routine a month ago, it’s been pitch black at 6:00 am when I head out.  (Perhaps this will change after we roll the clocks back on Sunday?)

I ran alone in the dark for years in my Oklahoma hometown.  The difference is that back then I was running along the streets of my hometown (streets I knew well and on which I grew up playing hide-and-seek with my childhood friends long after dark on summer nights) and those streets were mostly well-lit.

Here, there are no street lights. Our housing addition is far outside the city limits, the lots are quite large, and the houses are very spread out. Even when porch lights are on, they cast a faint glow roadside.

I’m not afraid. I never have been, especially not back home, where at least 20 people I knew were always within shouting distance. Back home, the only thing I ever had to worry about was the occasional mouthy dog or stray skunk. A few times, inattentive drivers caused me to jump in the ditch when they came too close, but I ran for years in the wee hours of the morning without incident.

Here, I’ve mostly noticed how different it feels to run without benefit of street lights. Obviously, it’s really dark. Like, easy-to-trip dark. And when you can’t see anything, your hearing is magnified. The pat-pat-pat of my own feet fills my ears. My loud and strained respiration going uphill and my soft and steady breath going downhill are my only soundtrack. The occasional squirrel (rabbit?) scampering through the woods beyond my sight is as noisy as a passel of kids in a leaf pile and can be quite startling.

Back home, I used to pass time by counting cars. During a four-mile run through my hometown, I encountered anywhere from one dozen to three dozen cars. Here, I might encounter half a dozen cars in a week of four-mile runs. Back home, I used to think “I had no idea this many people drive around this early. I wonder where they work?” Here, I ponder “Why isn’t anyone out and about?”

It’s a strange sensation — this diminished eyesight accompanied by amplified hearing while running on a road in what feels like the middle of nowhere. It has the effect of removing all the clutter from my brain. I can’t explain it except to say my mind is clear. I don’t think about work. I don’t think about the kids or the bills or tomorrow’s supper or anything except putting one foot in front of the other. Because there’s no visual stimulation, there’s no mental distractions. It’s like meditation, except while running. I find it exceptionally calming and restorative. It makes me think a little darkness always re-calibrates your perspective on the light.

I bet the unfortunate folks impacted by Hurricane Sandy feel the same way.

With gratitude {for a safe neighborhood, the ability to run, and the pleasure of an early morning meditation},

Joan, who wants you to know she always runs against traffic and was reminded why yesterday morning when an oncoming car cut a corner dreadfully short, prompting some quick footwork into the ditch



  1. I used to have an emotional reaction while driving in early (5AM) to help at a free breakfast offered locally out of a downtown church. The streets were so close to empty until I got close to the church – I felt a little bit like one of only a few people left alive in the world. Very unsettling and eerie. On another level it was also very intimate – to be the “only” one out and about. I felt tender and protective of “my city”.

    You wrap yourself in all sorts of reflective gear, then? Hmmm?

  2. Well . . .
    Back home, I ran for quite a while with nothing reflective until a fellow that I encountered every morning in one of those cars sought me out at a community event to tell me I frightened him because I was so difficult to see. (I had no idea how he knew it was me — I had been running in the dark wearing a hoodie.) Anyway, I bought reflective gear the next day and wore it faithfully from then on.
    Here, I’ve encountered so few cars and my running has been so sporadic, I haven’t gotten in the habit of putting it on. But I’ve been thinking that those hills are probably terribly dangerous (If I’m on the downhill side and somebody is coming over the hill and can’t see me until the last minute), so I promise to start wearing my reflective vest again.

  3. I like working out first thing in the morning but not knowing my new neighborhood well yet makes me hesitant to go out in the dark. I’m glad you didn’t get hit by that car!

  4. Lap swimming creates that kind of sensory-deprived, meditative state. So does yoga if you keep your eyes on a “drishti.” Thank goodness texasdeb told you to wear your reflective gear.

  5. M’del, I’ve never understood how you are such a good swimmer. You ought to sink like a bag of bones. Me, on the other hand . . . I ought to float along the surface, buoyed by my blubber, and I can’t seem to get anywhere except to the bottom. I WANT to be a swimmer, but I gave up years ago after two many instances of floundering and choking on swallowed water.

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