We are in the middle of a come-hither-if-you-dare outdoor playground: the Green Mountain National Forest. All seasons, rain or shine, muggy or sub-zero, day or night. It’s right here, tempting us, begging us. We do not resist.
Sundays all spring and summer Tom and I run the Snowbowl — the local ski area a mere 4-minute drive from our home. It's up the Proctor, down the Youngman, up the Wissler to the top of the Lang where we follow the Long Trail south back up to the summit, then down the Voter. It's not a lot of miles, but climbing and dropping 1000 feet a few times takes a couple of hours. We want to complete it, but we're not in a hurry. It's summer and we have all day. So much light. We stop and pick up a turkey feather, take the occasional pee break, pick up the heart-shaped rock, gasp at the views and exchange silent high-fives after a particularly rugged uphill slog. It's not easy. Some days it's actually a little bit miserable. But still we love it, and we do it because we can’t help ourselves.
In late summer on the long dusk-touching run to Goshen Dam the look-at-me clouds become quickly darkening skies. Too quickly. We are summer spoiled and haven't entirely remembered that autumn light fades faster. There is not enough time to complete the whole out-and-back run, but we do it anyway. Not enough daylight left for us to pause at the turnaround point, but we do it anyway. As the light vanishes, we drink in the view in giant gulps, not ready to turn our backs to it. We leave the last few rays of October sunset and re-enter the blackening woods. We run out of light and keep running. At some point we decide to leave the trail and bushwhack our way to the road — just as dark as the woods, but the footing is a little more of a sure thing. It’s a long punishing run home through the blinding blackness, mostly downhill on hard-packed dirt road.
It happens again on skis as the light is fading and leaving giant golden brushstrokes of yellow across Breadloaf’s snowy pines. Blair and I push along through a foot of freshly fallen whisper light snow. A stretch of leafless shrubline separates the pristine blanket of snow-road from the stark stand of evergreens. Viridian touching burnt umber touching titanium white, it is an artist's creation with oils on canvas. We turn around before we want to, declining winter's invitation to continue and then ski back in the dark. It reminds me of the Goshen Dam run and I tell Blair the story about standing there, breathing hard, chugging the view even though there wasn’t time. And indeed, it happens again: the light sprints away, the black air seeps around us, and on our skis we glide silently into nightfall.
In winter Tom and I go walking up the road in the freezing cold. Breath coming out of us in fat puffs. The sky just barely beginning to clear after so many days of low gray clouds. Just one star, then another. We don’t talk at all. Just walk, side by side, hands in pockets, elbows brushing elbows. As we approach the winter solstice, it seems we live in forever darkness. Rising in the dark, coming home in the dark, always dark. At the end of our walk we hear a barred owl calling from way up on the ridge. Just twice, two chilling pleas, wafting unanswered through the black unmoving night.