If one is lucky enough to be out for a longish run on a September morning in Ohio, it’s all about the sky. It starts out velvet black, spangled with stars so low and bright they appear to rest in the treetops. With luck there’s a moon, saturated with light and seeming near enough to reach. Running is an act of absolute faith, one foot following another along a path familiar enough that sight would be redundant. The eyes rest on the sky, seeking and finding constellations, geometry, order on a scale far beyond the quiet footsteps and warm breath of the runner.
Gradually the road appears, and the stars begin to fade as the day gathers itself towards dawn. The hush gives way to hesitant birdsong; raccoons rustle in the thickets and flashes of lesser black betray the buoyant tails of deer and rabbit as they shy away from running footsteps. The air starts to move, and wafts of warmth come off of asphalt parking lots whose sunheat still lingers. The sky becomes an inverted bowl, silver along the eastern horizon and shading up and over into the last inky shadows in the west. Skin and shoes are shades of grey, ghostly and indistinct in motion.
Coming down the first hill into the beginnings of sunrise, the color of parchment against an achingly dark blue sky. Legs and lungs working in concert, not too hard, breath coming easy and regular. The morning star hangs low and luminous in the brightening sky, outshining the fading moon and just paler than the golden bellies of the strips of clouds. Below them, the faintest wash of rose clings to the horizon, sending fingers of color out into the pearl.
No sun yet, but it’s a relief to turn aside and run under a tunnel of trees, where the darkness lingers in the shadows and the light is visible only as a lacy filigree between the leaves. They are green now. and dark gold and orange, and the bright hues of shirt and shoes stand out against their cool, quivering backdrop. Beads of sweat, soft and salty, glow on cool skin, but the dew on the grass is still invisible, shrouded by the last blanket of night. It’s very quiet.
Where the road slices the forest, the eastern sky is visible for a moment, blazing now with gold and red, the clouds halfway to the zenith painted with radiance. Above the trees, the sky is dawning blue and clear, glowing as if backlit. Everything shines: the road, the headlights paired like glowing eyes, the trees stooped towards the verge. The hills are blocking the sun’s appearance, its fire reaches high into the heavens but its face is still hidden. The world is saturated in color, the sky flames almost blindingly scarlet and gilt, but still there is no light on the leaves, no dew to be seen on the grass.
Time to turn away from the panoply of light and run the long, slow hill to the west. Legs are tired now, but shortened steps and quicker breathing accommodate the slope. The world is less bright, less impatiently brilliant in this direction; only the faintest shimmer of gold at the tops of the trees shows that the sun has finally shown its face. The hill is a mile long, rising more and more gently as it climbs, and by the end of it the sun is above the horizon. The newly-changing leaves catch its rays and toss them back in a thousand reflected ripples of light. The first rays strike the grass and pick out the heavy drops of dew, lighting up runways of crystal across the fields. The air is heavy and moist, trapping the sunbeams in long, sloping triangular lightshadows of gold and green. The sky is as pale and blue as at midday, all its darkness gone. There is no urgency in air or light; the day is launched. The warmth of the sun bathes weary arms and legs, fills the air with freshness to fill tired lungs.
These last two miles are the only ones run in full daylight. They drag, without the loveliness of the dawn to compel the eye. The footfalls blend together and blend with the breath until running is just the mind and the sunlight absorbed in one another. The cool air glows with the promise of afternoon warmth, there are cars and dogs and children and other runners all seeming to be in a hurry. But they’ve missed it. Their hurry is run by clocks, not by the great curved patterns of the sky; they only know that they are late. The runner has stepped within that ancient dance that raises the new day; the runner is right on time.
©Mary Braden 2014