I like attaching meaning and importance to objects and dates and places. I like putting these mental thumbtacks on the map to help me remember the lines that led there. I like placing these little tripwires in my memory.
All of which is why just after midnight last night, I put on my running shoes.
Winter solstice arrives today, meaning the days start getting longer again.
And yes, I know that winter-weather-wise, we’re nowhere near the true cold heart of the season here in Ohio, but like I said, this is about calendars and turning points and milestones in my brain.
It hasn’t been an easy year in the Booth house, and while there were many Moments of Indescribable Awesome and Times of Quiet Joy, it’s also been one of the most stressful, unstable and difficult times Jenn & I have had in our nearly 14 years of marriage, and while there are pieces of 2009 I want desperately never to forget, I am also not entirely unhappy to see it coming to an end.
So: Winter Solstice. The thought occurred to me last week that I wanted to go out for a run by myself in the deepest part of the night. Just a symbolic two-mile run, just for me, just to go out there for no reason other than to put a bookmark there where things are supposed to start getting brighter one imperceptible sliver of a second at a time.
According to sunrisesunset.com, sundown here in North Canton, Ohio came at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 20. This morning’s sunrise time was 7:46, making for about 14 hours and 46 minutes of “night.” I figured the midpoint, then, at 7 hours and 23 minutes between the two: 12:23 a.m.
I went outside at about 12:20, and the 30-degree air actually felt warmer than I expected. With no wind, it was a still and quiet world.
It wasn’t as dark as I thought it would be either, thanks to a low, reflecting sky. And more people had left their Christmas lights on than I’d anticipated, too. Even so, most of the run fell well outside the pools of residential illumination and streetlights.
I carried a flashlight to keep myself visible, occasionally sending the beam into the woods and the roadside weeds and over fields, where it was swallowed quickly by distance and shadows.
I glanced over my shoulder more often than usual, hearing phantom cars cresting the hills behind me.
Just past the half-mile mark, the streetlights came to an end, and this was the part of the run I’d had in mind, with the dark fields around me, and enough snow on the ground to keep even the faintest breeze from rustling the bare trees and the expanses of long-since-harvested corn and soybean fields.
Briefly, my flashlight caught on something distant, giving the illusion of an approaching runner, and it unnerved me for a second, which is kind of funny. (Because who wants to run into a person strange enough to be out running at this hour, right?)
At the bottom of the hill that marked the turnaround point, I swung across an intersection and headead home. The big climb seemed smaller in the dark, though there was a creepy moment when I passed a length of slatted fence and thought I heard footsteps on the other side.
A little under 20 minutes after I’d left, I ran back into our driveway and took off my hat, cooling off and breathing deeply.
And if, scientifically, there are longer “nights,” as would seem to be the case – though it doesn’t make sense to me why – I chose this one because it was the last before the solstice. I wanted it to feel like the last stretch of an arc down into the darkness and the first few steps back upward.
Just putting on my tennis shoes and running a couple miles past midnight didn’t really change anything, but the sun’s up now, and I’m glad I did it.