To dance in the woods

The view from the Cross.

(Previously published in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Reproduced by permission.)

You rise before daybreak without an alarm, and tiptoe into the kitchen to make coffee. By 5:30 there’s plenty of light, even in the woods, so you sneak out the front door and turn left onto the sidewalk. A streetlight blinks off as a contractor’s pickup rolls down the empty street. 

Less than a block down, an opening in the woods reveals the small trail, and you begin an easy run. Vine tendrils tickle your ankles as you negotiate a steep downhill and cross a wooden bridge over an all-but-still, summer-brown stream. The trail then rises sharply, making you breathe a little harder, and meets a rough access road, its large uneven gravel a challenge to the ankles.

Around the corner of a school building, morning light slants across a flat, dewy expanse of mown grass where students practice sports during the school year. A little bit of concrete, across a road, and you’re picking up the pace down the mulchy path to the lacrosse field.

You keep a steady pace along the edge, the artificial turf springy under your step as you pass the wooden bleachers…

Suddenly, two deer explode from the field-side brush no more than ten yards ahead as you flinch with an involuntary “Hey!” Trying to reel in your heart rate and adrenaline, you continue around the field’s perimeter, up a barely-there connector trail, and through the gravel parking lot.

A quick left and you’re on a dirt service road. Erosion has left sand piled in the track — it’s a little bit of beach running six hours from the ocean. A few seconds later you have joined the main path out Tennessee Avenue toward the Cross.

Two friends have shared in recent weeks their tales of falling while running on trails. You wonder whether they tried, while in the woods, to bring with them from the pavement their regular, metronomic, one-two one-two rhythm. Meanwhile, you’re keeping your footfalls as light as possible on the rooty section of the path, your pace syncopated, full of hops and skips. 

The trail emerges into the parking lot, the spotlights still focusing their beams on the Cross. You crest the hill and slow to a walk as the view from the overlook reveals itself. At the edge of mown grass, you look out over the valley towards Cowan and Winchester. The morning supermoon hovers in midsky over the neat fields, pastures, roads, and homes and the distant haze of the horizon.

You find yourself murmuring half-aloud, “I am very lucky today, and very thankful. I don’t need a thing. Thank you, universe.”

Other small happenings await you between here and your house: the box turtle in the mown grass by the school building; the silence on your street, so complete that you hear the soft brrup, brrup of a bird’s flight as it passes. But you don’t know about them yet.

You turn and head back down the trail towards the day.