The Dark Side of a Morning Run

Posted on July 5, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

salado heron

My feet know the roads surrounding Salado, Texas, better than any other roads.  Having lived there four years, I ran them hundreds of times.  In the predawn hours, a world completely different from the one most residents see in broad daylight thrives beneath the stars and the moon.

When I lived in Salado, I could tell you where the doe threaded their way from the creek to their bedding field, followed closely by their fawns.  Two does bore twins each year, and I’d mark their monthly growth.  I stumbled across bucks one early morning, gathered in a semi-circle around two sparring for dominance. I heard antlers cracking hundreds of meters away before I caught sight of the proud assembly.

I could tell you which field was manned by hawks, adjacent to the stretch of road on which I did sprints.  Then there was Heron Pool, Woodpecker Corner, Skunk Alley, Camelback Hill—all places I named based on the animals that frequented them or the lay of the land.

So when I visited Salado for a couple of days early this week, my excitement swelled at the prospect of an early morning run.  I planned my route:  5 miles, from my mom’s house at the top of the hill, in a circle through the hawks’ territory and the sparring field, through downtown, and then an out-and-back past the old Salado cemetery before I tackled Skunk Alley and headed up the ½-mile hill back home.

I woke up minutes before my alarm, at 4:28 am, and was out the door by 5:10. I no sooner stepped into the yard than a deer snorted and nearly gave me a heart attack.  Even though there was a sliver of moon, the sky was too black to see much of anything beyond the looming shapes of trees.  I walked to the end of the cul-de-sac, waiting for my Garmin to find the Salado satellites, and quickly realized that Salado, like so many other towns, was hard up for cash.  None of the already sparse streetlights was lit.

I stood in the dark and stared at the stars and listened to the snorting taper off into the rustling leaves. It was dark, all right. None of the houses even emanated light.  I waited there at the crossroads until my eyes could adjust to the inky black.

Did I mention it was dark?  I paced down the road a bit, still waiting for the satellites, noting my amplified sense of hearing.  More leaves rustled, although there was no breeze, and goosebumps prickled my skin.

I get scolded frequently for running alone, in the dark:  Aren’t you afraid someone will jump you from behind a tree, drag you into a field?  There are so many crazy people in this world…

Crazy people don’t scare me.  I run with the awareness of a cat—which is why I don’t listen to music when I run.  I want to know what’s around me.  No, it’s not people or the possibility of being butchered in a field that triggers goosebumps.

It’s the old Salado cemetery.

Or, to be more exact, my imagination.

Most of the fiction I write has elements of horror, the supernatural.  I don’t need to watch horror movies (I shun them like the plague).  I have enough creepiness in my head to last nine lives.

So standing in the pitch black of pre-dawn waiting for the satellites, my skin rippling like the ocean before a storm, I got to thinking.  I haven’t lived in Salado for 2 ½ years. What do I know anymore?  It’s quite possible the deer have been domesticated like the Far Side cows and are hanging out in the newly cleared subdivision-to-be, a spotter calling “car” as the rest of the herd hide their newspapers and resume grass-chewing.  Maybe the hawks have retired to South America for good. It’s even feasible that Skunk Alley has succumbed to gang activity and I may very well get sprayed—or worse—this time through.

So, really, who needs 5 miles?

Especially past the old Salado cemetery, where the pre-Civil War gravestones jut from the earth like ruined fingers under the waning moon, bats flit and dip through the phantom-shaped shadows, and willow trees cast their weepy leaf-arms about like matted, tangled hair.

My 4-mile run was a peach.  The wind chimes big as organ pipes hung grandly from the house in the dip by the bend, and the kitty-cat mailbox painted in pastels stood welcoming and warm at the end of the cottage’s driveway.  My mom’s subdivision, at least, hasn’t changed much.

Who needs nature anyway?

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