I begin each day with an early morning moonlit walk in the dark, just me and my dogs. It’s fairly quiet, although never silent. Sometimes I think, sometimes I don’t. Although it is always dark, I do not use a flashlight or a headlamp. I don’t need them. There are plenty of lights — streetlights, house lights, stop lights (if we go to Main Street). We make our way from light to light.
When I come home, I brew a pot of tea and write a poem, often a haiku, usually about the previous day.
One Saturday morning we walked down a particularly dark stretch of road, the one with a windmill. I saw the bright headlights of a vehicle approaching us. I moved to the edge, by the deer fence. The car saw us, dimmed its lights to a normal level, then began to slow. When the vehicle stopped I saw it was the police.
The officer had his window down, his arm resting on the ledge, to signal us.
“How do you see without a light?” he asked.
Shocked at his question, I thought for moment, then answered, “I know these roads.”
He laughed, gave us a Texas wave and drove on.
I couldn’t stop thinking about our two-sentence conversation for the rest of my walk. Back home, I made tea, and rendered our two-sentence conversation as a three-line haiku.
Police car stops, “How
do you see without a light?”
“Ah, I know these roads.”
I’ve been thinking about walking in the dark ever since. That stretch of road where he stopped me is the darkest along any of my walks. It’s also my favorite — because it’s so dark. The more I walk in the dark, the less dark it seems.
Recently I read an article first published in Texas Monthly magazine in March 2004 titled Conversations with a Grasshopper, by S.C. Gwynne. The author spent a week camping alone in a remote section of the already remote Big Bend Ranch State Park. Near the end of his adventure, he’s begun to see in a new way. He writes of a sunset and of Venus, and then he says this:
It really isn’t dark at all in the desert. With full starlight, you can easily see what you are doing: with full moonlight, you can almost read. Even with an overcast sky it isn’t really dark. The walls of the tent were always luminous. It is dark inside the tent, not outside.”
I know a bit of what he describes of that far West Texas night sky, having walked not too far from where he was, although I did not sleep in a tent. In that part of the state you look up from an unmarked trail or even a highway and the night sky is crowded with light.
Poet Naomi Shihab Nye knows this sky too. Her collection Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners includes this poem about Big Bend National Park, a mere two and a half hours away from the state park.
Stars Over Big Bend
Maybe we first met this arching dome
in dreams of what a life could be.
Sheer spaciousness, before hope
bent backward too many times,
breaking news breaking us.
In the vast immensity
a breath feels more at home,
released into place.
Never mind which star might be dead,
how long ago it died—
don’t want to know.
Light taking forever to get here,
more precious when it arrives.
— Naomi Shihab Nye
As June swings toward and then away from today’s summer solstice, it is light by the time the dogs and I return from our daily walk. I’ve been walking dogs in the dark for more than a decade — noticing the moon do its lunar dance, staring at stars, dead or alive. The summer’s extra light is good for taking an early morning bike ride, but it saddens me the other six days of the week.
Light, take your time.
To compensate, perhaps, I’ve been getting my darkness when most people do: at night. No going to bed early this month — I’m in a community theater production of The Sound of Music. I drive home late, with the windows down, so I can see the sky’s “vast immensity.” Once home, I take a few minutes to sit outside and sip something sparkly, like Topo Chico, while I look up.
I remember the cups of tea I’ve tasted under “this arching dome,” when I felt “hope / bent backward too many times, / breaking news breaking us.” I’d drink darkness and gaze at darkness and after a while it didn’t feel so dark anymore. Then I’d write a poem.
My notebooks and computer files are filed with poems about walks. They’re a great subject for poetry because there is space to combine natural details with deep thoughts. When I wrote a series of linked haiku about the cardinals nesting in our mountain laurel, the poems were about the domestic avian dance I witnessed and also about parenthood.
Even though I have a performance tonight I will get up early tomorrow, leash up the dogs, and walk, possibly down the windmill road I know so well. No matter how tired I am, I know my “breath feels more at home, / released into place” after a walk.
Then I’m ready for tea and poetry.
Photo by michaelleckman, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Megan Willome.
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“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro
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L.L. Barkat says
This sentence right here: “I drive home late, with the windows down, so I can see the sky’s ‘vast immensity.’ ”
After all these years of living in a semi-urban setting, I miss those kinds of moments most. I can feel it. And I wish.
(Such a wonderful piece in its entirety here, Megan. I love a good walking reflection. 🙂 )
Megan Willome says
Thank you. I go a little stir crazy in cities, mainly for missing the sky.
Megan, this is lovely and so evocative, a perfect way to begin this longest day.
Last week we went on an unplanned camping trip with minimal gear. When I reached for the headlamps, all their batteries were dead. So we went without light. But the Strawberry Moon was coming full and we had no trouble walking from the fire ring to our tent. In the hum of planning and packing, I wasn’t writing. Thank you turning my mind back to this experience.
“Light, take your time.”
“The more I walk in the dark, the less dark it seems.”
“We make our way from light to light.”
Each of these lines belongs in a poem. I’m getting my notebook out now.
Megan Willome says
Thank you, Kortney. Don’t you love all the names for the various full moons?
I’ll see if I can turn any of these lines into a poem, if you’ll write one from your camping trip. It’s never too late.
And I’m pretty sure I riffed “Light, take your time” from Hamilton.
Megan, lovely essay. Do you know Diane Ackerman’s ‘Dawn Light: Dancing with Crane and Other Ways to Start the Day’? If no, I think you’d like it.
I left the “s” off “Cranes”. I love the image evoked by “Dancing with Cranes”.
Megan Willome says
Thank you, Maureen. And no, I don’t know that book, but I looked it up, and it sounds wonderful. I will check it out.
Matthew Kreider says
Megan, this is so lovely, blue, and bending…
And your words here waken my bones because I’ve been waking up at 4:15 every morning, for the past six months, to write poems, though with espresso from an Italian stovetop moka (don’t worry: the morning is always paired with a freshly-sharpened pencil! :).
This time of dawn and discipline has been a gift every single day. It’s about showing up and being ready and awake to the luminosity and The Joy of Poetry.
Oh that luminous, formative book of yours! 🙂
Megan Willome says
Thanks so much, Matthew.
I know you share my love for pencils, those powerful poetry tools. And I’m so glad the book has been formative in your life, especially nice ‘n’ early.