The walnuts are always the first to turn.At least around here they are.Their yellow leaves began to litter the bike path in August.Their nuts can be quite a hazard to a jogger if it’s not quite light.Still jacketed with their spherical rind, an unexpected foot landing on one can lead to a rolled ankle or even a fall on the pea gravel.Such incidents led me to wait until it’s light enough to see clearly before going out for a jog.You see, I like to exercise before starting work, so I jog at first light.In June this can mean heading out even before five if the weather’s clear.Since I start work around 6:30 this is a comfortable time to go.Nobody else is on the bike path then.And with Covid lurking, that’s a good thing.
The earliest sunrise comes about a week before the summer solstice.By the time summer officially begins I already have to delay my jog slightly.This is one of the great disappointments about Daylight Saving Time.After winter’s long darkness, it starts to get light in the morning and I think to myself “I’ll soon be able to jog before work again,” but then we set the clocks back and set sunrise progress back by another month.During the darkling months of the year I have to jog at lunchtime.The changing walnuts always warn me that such a time is drawing near.Already here in early September I’m getting back late for my usual work time since the sun is reluctant to throw its first crepuscular rays over the brow of the hill before six a.m.The problem with this is that many more people are out on the bike trail at six than I ever see at five.And often they don’t care to share.
There are a couple of older guys who walk abreast, taking up pretty much the whole trail every day now.They hear me coming, look back, but like the marching band in “American Pie,” refuse to yield.Single file for them is a sign of weakness.I have to divert into the dew-soaked grass on chilly mornings to get around them with my now-wet feet.I long for the days when I could easily jog before they even think of heading out to the trail. The solitude of half-light.The walnuts are the prophets of the tree world, however.Their fruit is both nutritious and dangerous.Scattered across the trail in the persistent dusk of a cloudy morning, they’re both a hazard and a warning.And it’s a sign that the morning jog may already have to wait until mid-May to reappear.
Uh-oh!I seem to be airborne.All that’s in front of me is concrete.If I don’t do something, my exposed hands will hit first.Tuck, and try not to hit your head.Still, on impact the first thing I do is look around to see if anyone saw that.It’s embarrassing to trip and fall, especially when you’re old enough to be avoiding that sort of thing.I jog before it’s fully light out, however, and the sidewalks can be uneven.Just in case anyone’s watching my Superman impression, I immediately climb to my feet and resume my pace.I’ll be sore tomorrow.As a jogger since high school you’d think I’d have this worked out by now, but you’re never too old to learn, I guess.
The amazing thing to me is just how much you can think in those fleet seconds that you’re actually in the air, about to hit the ground like a sack of old man.That’s exactly what happened, though, from the split second I felt my toe catch in an unseen crack and felt my balance give way.Taking additional steps while trying to straighten back up sometimes works, but my top-heavy head was too far out of sync and my feet were sure to follow.Your memory of such things goes out of body and you watch yourself comically flying, without the grace of a bird, toward an unforgiving substrate.Such is the fate of the early morning runner.I don’t have time to do it during the day.What if someone emails and I don’t answer?They’ll think I’m slacking off.Remote workers!
Despite the occasional spills, I’ve always enjoyed this form of exercise.In the post-Nashotah House days while still in Wisconsin I’d sometimes do nine miles at a time.Whenever I’ve moved to a new place I’ve gotten to know the neighborhood by jogging around.Even if it’s not fully light you can see plenty.(Although the cracks in the sidewalk aren’t always obvious.)I tend to think about these things as life lessons.Parables, if you will.One of the deep-seated human dreams is that of flying.Birds make it look so easy, and fun.A human body feels so heavy when it impacts the ground.I suspect that’s why we find gymnasts so fascinating to watch.As for me, I’m just a middle-aged guy in sweats and wearing glasses.And even as I head home I’m already thinking how remarkable the number of thoughts are in the few seconds while in flight, somewhere over the concrete.