To get in a morning walk before driving my son to school, I’ve been rising shortly before dawn this August and greeting the day as the fishermen do, by getting dressed in the dark.
Flipping switches might stir the rest of the family, so I gather my clothes by the faint light that comes in from the bathroom window instead. My routine places a premium on bright clothing that easily reveals itself in the dim corner of the room where, the evening before, I’ve placed my things in a pile.
Last winter, a vivid red warm-up suit became my uniform of choice — a fashion option so routine that Janet, one of my neighbors, half-jokingly suggested that I retire the ensemble after Christmas. She was right to think of the holidays, I suppose, when she spotted me ambling up the walk each day in crimson pants and shirt. Picture a beardless Santa in tennis shoes, and you’ll understand the image I burned upon the unwilling retinas of fellow residents.
In this in-between time that bridges late summer with early fall, my walking wardrobe has been lighter and more understated — some khaki shorts, maybe, and a sports shirt of blue or green. This isn’t a topic, I know, that requires much worry. I’m comforted, like many people who reach middle age, by a growing awareness that in most instances, almost no one is looking at me, anyway.
At any rate, spectators along my walking route are few and far between when the moon still hangs in the morning sky. Last week, I spotted a carload of roofers on their way to start their day — trying, I guess, to get in a few hours of hammering before the sun gained its strength. Their eyes were still groggy with sleep, as I’m sure mine were while I plodded down the sidewalk with our terrier in tow. My dog, like its owner, is not quite awake in early morning, and his mind sometimes wanders while he sniffs the shrubbery, stopping at intervals and staring blankly, as if he’s lost his place in a piece of assigned reading.
I try to sort out the pattern of the day on my morning walks, making mental lists of things to do, or composing e-mails I’ll probably never write, or nursing a private question or two, like a knitter taking up her needles.
By habit, I find myself in this quiet space at daybreak and try to fill it with something more useful than the mere act of stretching my legs. But this odd hour draws me outdoors precisely because of its emptiness, the space it creates to see a new day at arm’s length.
As the walk begins, I notice that each street light shimmers within its own halo, the glow from the lamps sometimes fractured by the morning mist into rainbows. By the end of the walk, the emerging sun is slowly brightening the heavens, the horizon the color of milk.
I pick up the newspaper at the base of the driveway as I head back inside to brew coffee, newly hopeful that whatever the headlines might bring, I’m now calm enough to help carry the day’s worries. In the early hours of late summer, I find something else, too — a coolness in the air that hints, happily, at the coming of fall.