Walking in the Dark

Here at the 44th parallel and in this solstice, by the time I run out of writing energy, it’s dark.  I began my walk at 5, and with the clouds there was no trace of light left.  I carried a little reflector light for when I was walking on the road, but something moved me to plunge off into the woods.

(Actually, what moved me was this: I had let Quan drive herself to her doctor’s appointment, when she was in bad enough shape that I should have done it.  The walk was an act of penance and of prayer to keep her safe while driving in an altered state, when I should have been driving her.  Like holding Misty’s plane up for her when she flies up here, woods walking in the dark was my way of holding Quan’s car on the road.)

Though I long ago practiced some of Carlos Castaneda’s techniques for walking in the dark, I was in no mood, and no longer of an age, for running high-kneed with curled fingers through a wood studded with granite boulders, old logging truck ruts, and darkened trees, the way I did in the green belt above Boulder in the ’70’s.

But I dropped into my hara, letting the ‘eye’ of my belly see the coming terrain, sensitizing the bottom of my feet to feel their way onto the next surface.  For a couple of minutes my literal eyes struggle to see, but then the mind relaxes and goes all receptive, and the skin on my front becomes an eye all its own.  At first I am walking down a woods path, but then I try my luck in the thick of the brush.  I stop for a minute, hearing the night birds, the scolding chirrups of a squirrel I have disturbed, and the clicks of the insects. Then I move forward, over the edge of the road and down toward the sound of the stream.

My hands are up in a kind of prayer position to protect my eyes from the branches, but by now my feet are sure, even on the slope.  Crossing the stream is problematic – I use the little red flasher to see the log, but cross it in the dark, blessing the soft-soled shoes that allow my feet a little prehansility.  On the other side, I step beside a root and fall through into some underlying water – so much for my Don Juan invulnerability.  I wring out my sock and continue, chastened.

But the rest of the walk home is a delight for the nose, skin, and ears – sensitive to the sigh of cold air off the hill with its promise of dew, the squidge of the soil in a record-breaking unfrozen mid-December – it should be cracking underfoot by now, the acrid whiff of horse shit as I come around the corner towards the barn, the startled ducks’ wings slap on the pond, then whine in the air, Camelot’s nicker, Morgan’s bark, my crunch on the driveway, the click of the doorknob, the smell of chainsaw oil in the shed, sawdust in the garage, the light switch on the right – and I am back in the sighted world.

Quan came home, safe but tired, much later.

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