Growing up, summer nights were one of the most alive times of the year. Our family house is on a court, and there were plenty of cohorts in adventure around my age. The big streetlights would turn on around dusk, not signaling time to go home but time to get started.
We’d be out until at least 10pm, playing tag, capture the flag or hide and seek. Venturing into the shadowy nooks and crannies was equal parts intimidating and crucial for staying alive in the game. A little scary being “preyed” on, but exhilarating! When we finally got the call from our parents to come in for the night, we ran into the safe comfort of home lights with an imagined air of danger trailing behind us, already thinking ahead to the next night’s shenanigans.
Last week, I knew I’d be getting out of work an hour earlier than normal, so I planned on swooping my four-legged creature up and taking her for a sunset trail run along one of our go-to trails. Leave it to Bay Area traffic to derail my plans, getting us to the trail head about 45 minutes later than planned. When we got there the sun was already pretty close to the horizon, and I had a moment’s hesitation. If I pushed forward, there’s no way we would be finishing by sunset, and I hadn’t brought a flashlight or headlamp with me. To go or not to go?
A roughly 2.25 mile loop planned, I knew I could finish it up in under 40 minutes. It would be well into dusk, but not quite pitch black, so we forged on.
We weren’t too far along the trail before I started imagining all the things society tells us we have to fear in the dark. Attackers lurking around the corner, broken bones with no one around to help, coyotes prowling Pita and waiting to snap her up. Was I running in exhilaration or fear? Or both?
And then those summer nights came back to me. Those nights when the dark was a safe haven to protect me from the “seeker”, when shadowy corners were to be embraced, when playing in the dark was a privilege, a sign of independence, and not a cause for panic. As I remembered those nights, my steps lightened, my awareness sharpened, and my running became pure exhilaration. Laughter came bubbling out. With every step, I remembered what it felt like to play. How often do we get to play anymore? Not shooting for a heavier weight or a faster pace, but merely getting lost in the pure fun of what we’re doing? Just doing for the sake of doing?
I’ve been reading The Essential Sheehan lately, and the following has stuck with me.
“Some of the good things in play are physical grace, psychological ease, and personal integrity. The best are the peak experiences, when you have a sense of oneness with yourself and nature. These are truly times of peace the world cannot give…play is the place to find them – the place where we are constantly being and becoming ourselves.”
Out there running the trails in twilight, I felt like I connected with a part of myself that I hadn’t had a conversation with in some time. Schedules were forgotten, society’s rules and agendas faded away, and all that remained was me and my dog, racing the light, peace and exhilaration in every step.
Wishing you many moments of play this week.
I’m all about running safely, even when I am trying to capture that feeling of play. Be sure to let someone know what trails you’re running and when you expect to be back. Take a cell phone with you, even if you’re not sure you’ll have service. And be prepared! I didn’t have a flashlight or headlamp with me because I didn’t think I’d be out past dark, but in the future I’ll be keeping one in my car.