“I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.”
— Robert Frost
On relatively rare occasions, my wife or I go it alone on our walks or rides into the countryside near our place. It’s not often that either of us ventures down that blacktop ribbon on our own, for we enjoy each other’s company. But this seems to be the time of year when our day jobs spill over more and more into the after hours, and whether it’s because of our busyness or our turned-back clocks, we have to put off our strolls until after dark, or not take them at all.
Such was the case last week when, on a warm and windy evening, I grabbed our flashlight, laced up my shoes, and took off on my own into the dusk while she was tied down to more mundane duties at an elementary school book sale.
Like most of the best times in life, my walk was unplanned and unscripted, an impromptu march into a colorful sunset, accompanied by unexpectedly mild November air, the kind that one likes to see blowing through bedroom curtains or hear rattle through fall leaves. I intended to tackle only half our usual distance, but quickly changed my mind after settling into a contented pace, comfortable in shirt sleeves and battered ball cap.
As I put a mile, and eventually the hassles of the day, behind me, I began to listen in my head for Robert Frost’s poem, “Acquainted With the Night,” for I had nothing special to occupy that space, and it seemed so appropriate since I knew I’d not make it to my back step before it was truly dark.
I have never been skilled at reciting poetry, an inadequacy that left me ridiculed at vacation Bible school programs and classroom re-enactments in my childhood days, but a line or two of Frost’s sonnet floated between my ears as I turned back east and headed for home, the glow of a robin’s egg blue and orange sherbet sky on my back. I knew I could more than mumble what few lines I could remember, for all that was in the woods and near the fields to hear my halting attempts were a few crabby killdeer and a neighbor’s always-confused rooster, who never knows what time it really is.
I have written often of Frost in this space, I suppose because his words come to me when I’m with trees and stars and quiet places, the kind of stages that he treasured, too. As in his poem’s setting, I looked up to see “One luminary clock,” this time in the southeastern sky, although the moon I witnessed that night was far from a full one.
As one who speaks from experience in dodging inattentive drivers and uneven roadsides, walking at night can be a call for hazard pay. We use a tiny but mighty light that flickers bright white through a bubbled glass lens, but we turn it on only when we hear or see a car ahead or behind us, for, although the light is silent, we feel it unnaturally intrudes with our thoughts. I’m sure that we’ve startled some unsuspecting motorists who never expected our light to greet them as they came up over a rise in the pavement.
On that night, I knew that all around me there were things creeping about. On more than one occasion, however, one or the other of us has startled a deer who was more concerned with a little spilled grain than paying attention to pedestrian traffic. My wife actually feared that one was about to crash through an unpicked cornfield and run into her bike as she pedaled in the dusk toward home a few weeks ago. I have merely watched them watch me as I walk along, snickering a bit as they snort and jump at my interloping.
We know the coyotes are out and about, too; we have seen them killed on the road; heard of neighbors who have lost chickens and house cats and rabbits to the scruffy gray-brown hoodlums. We have seen them high-tailing it across a field in the glare of our car’s headlights, and we hear them every night howling in the lonely distance. Our stereotype of them was shattered last summer, though. We found one along the road, dead just a day or two. It was as well-groomed as a parvenu’s poodle; its teeth bright white; its coat slick and clean. It appeared well fed; an innocent, wrongly accused of chicken thievery, perhaps…
In the chill of the low spots that evening, I picked up my pace until I could get back into the pleasantness of the southerly breezes and a place where I could take my hands out of my pockets. I often turned to look for Venus, bright and low in the western sky, while one by one I saw the stars turn on their lights for the night. It was perfect.
As I made the turn onto the road that would lead me home in just a few more steps, I recalled that Frost’s closing couplet — that rhyming pair of lines that usually ties a sonnet neatly together like a double-knotted pair of sneakers — has often confused readers. Is the poem about Frost’s melancholy, about his thoughts of suicide, of depression? Despite recalling some his words, I can say that I was feeling none of that.
The moon of which Frost speaks may have inexplicably, “Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right…”
For me, it was as right as it could get.
Mike Lunsford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by regular mail, c/o the Tribune-Star, P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Lunsford will be signing his new book, “The Off Season: The Newspaper Stories of Mike Lunsford,” at The Coffee Grounds, 423 Wabash Ave., Terre Haute, beginning at 6 p.m. Friday. To learn more about the book and more signings, visit his Web site at www.mikelunsford.com.
“I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.
- Mike Lunsford
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