Thursday, December 10, 2009

Walking in the dark

Since beginning this blog, I have noticed that December is my most challenging time to write about being outside. Though by January I've gotten used to it being cold and am sometimes able to muster up some energy to go outside, in December I just want to stay in. I get outside during the day at work, but just because I have to cross campus, and many days I like the sunshine through my office window enough that I don't even care to head out. The slanting sunbeams are beautiful, even if they do bring the unwelcome news that by the time I see my daughters, it will be dark.

Lately, my routine is this: I get home at about 5, or 5:30. I put the chickens' water and food up into their indoor coop for the night, move their ladder, and, once they have roosted - right at dusk or soon after - I close the door and hope they can keep warm. Brian improved their quarters with a light and an extension cord, so that they now have a source of heat in addition to their well-feathered bodies. They seem content (and recently, I found Gabby roosting right next to the others, suggesting that they have finally accepted her, or perhaps that she isn't quite the bully by night that she is over food, by day).

Though I'm mentally done working by the time the chickens roost, Emily and Hazel don't want to come home until 6, when afterschool is closing, their teachers and friends leaving. So even if I walk there in the dregs of daylight, I generally wait there for them, and we walk home together in the dark.

I don't want to overstate the distance or adventure of this walk. We're not out there long, and the total distance we cover would only be considered exercise for a toddler at best. Still, I'm realizing how rare this is in modern childhood: a regular, nightly walk in the dark.

At first, I brought headlamps or flashlights. Then, eventually, I realized that we might be *more* likely to trip with these, because the shadows are stranger. Better to learn the footing, and get used to what we can see.

To Know The Dark
by Wendell Berry

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

And, at first, the girls complained, just as they did this time last year. "We are *walking* home? You didn't bring the car?" But I never bring the car, and they know it. The complaining lasted only the day or two of the shock of how early dark comes in December. Last night, Hazel and I walked alone, Emily already gone to prepare for a choral concert, and Hazel hardly changed conversations as we went outside, except to notice the wind for a moment. She didn't grab for my hand. I noticed last night that walking home in the dark was now normal for her.

I still haven't made myself go out for a run in the blowing flurries of today, nor did I go out for exercise in yesterday's ferocious wind. I still want to just hole up in my house, and eat comfort food and write in the abstract about how great it is to be outside. But at least, my seven year old is not afraid to walk home across an empty playground, by her favorite child-sized woodlands, through her own backyard, on starless windy nights.

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