The first real snow of the season fell overnight, and I woke to a chilly wind that was busily scrubbing a golden sky free of the last shreds of cloud. I wrapped up warmly to go for an early run, but soon the exercise took the chill off and I was able to peel off my gloves and unzip my jacket while the cold air leaped and curled over my skin, turning drops of sweat into tiny pockets of fast-fading chill. It was nearly dark when I left the house, the road muffled by shadowy drifts of leaves and lit by the gleam of streetlights off the snow. By the two-mile mark, the margins of the last puffy white clouds were golden and aflame against a sky so silver-clear it seemed backlit. The fields of corn stubble lay still and brown, surrounded by the black lace of bare thickets, the surrounding trees still dropping an occasional silent leaf into the wind. My shoes crunched the frozen leaves as I ran, and I found myself listening to the rhythm as if it were music, punctuated by the deep, easy counterpoint of my breathing as the cold air filled my lungs and then poured out again, visible in the half-light.
By three miles, the world was fully-colored again, the bright gold of gingko and maple standing out bravely against the increasingly-neutral hillside palette. The road was nearly dry, but faint traces of ice where draining water had puddled against the leaves gleamed flatly against the pavement just enough to make them easy to avoid. The wind streamed strong and steady from the north, with enough force that I had to lean into it to keep moving forward. That was a slow mile, but immensely invigorating. The clean, frosty taste of that cold air was like wine, the smell—rich with the fading scents of forest and field, but diluted by pure, bright emptiness—equally intoxicating if less pure.
My route turned away from the wind a little past the four-mile mark, and I headed uphill through the village, where both coffee shops were bustling and the grocery store was doing a brisk business in doughnuts and muffins. Car tailpipes coughed and belched white vapor as their mittened and scarved drivers nestled into their seats with travel mugs steaming. Aroma trails of cinnamon and butter wafted into the street, and an ongoing chorus of “Good Morning,” and “How are you?” accompanied me up the hill with many a smile and a wave. One of the best things about living in a very small town is that all the faces are familiar. Those of us who are out and about early in the morning are an especially cheerful crew, and all those smiles make it easy to run up any hill. They take the sting, too, out of the inevitable glimpse of myself in the shop window, where my imagined pantherlike grace is forced to yield to the visual evidence of a dumpy, middle-aged woman working much too hard to be moving this slowly. But hey, it’s better than sitting home on the couch, right?
At the top of the hill is a sharp right turn, two blocks of quiet residential streets and then home. The last minutes flew by quickly, as I checked pace and distance against my GPS phone app, scanned my body for new aches or twinges, strove for a perceptible burst of speed at the finish and kept an eagle eye out for unexpected patches of ice. Nothing felt cold at the end of 5 miles, but the chilly weather prevented even a moment of feeling overheated. Wide-awake and breathing hard, body wired and alert but not hurting, I was ready to face anything this day could throw at me. Worth every minute.
©Mary Braden 2013