Home Before Dark

So there I was in the middle of a river, up to my netherparts in rushing cold water, scared to death I was going to fall. Getting wetter wasn’t my concern, I was hyperventilating because I was carrying two laptops in my backpack and started to think about telling my new employer that the company computer I’d just received had taken a dunk in a Vermont river… would that be worse than saying it had been stolen from the car we parked behind a building who-knows-where so we could fish the afternoon away on our last day in the Green Mountain State?

 

fording this river would have been better if we weren't in a hurry

fording this river would have been better if we weren’t in a hurry

At least the fish had been biting. I got three beautiful rainbow trout, and Mike got two that he kept (of course he kept fishing but threw back the rest). What a day, what a great decision to stop here to fish (no, I’m not telling where). Would we have regretted it if we hadn’t ended summer this way? Most definitely. Would we regret it when we didn’t get home until way past dark? Probably not.

Still, it might have been better to give some thought to the safest and best way of crossing a river with a backpack full of stuff I can’t afford to replace, rather than jumping in because it was going to be dark soon. As dusk settles earlier, summer memories glow warmer: those nights looking up at the stars, the long bike rides on days that lasted forever, diving in the ocean and listening to the foam hiss around us. Yet something primal lurks within most of us, triggering a need to be safe inside when the light fades and the day cools.

don't say summer is over already!

don’t say summer is over already!

As a kid the rule of thumb was to be home when the streetlights came on. Being out in the woods somewhere, out of sight of the few streetlights we had back then was no excuse for being late. As an adult this rule often pops into my mind when I’m out enjoying myself in the woods or the water. But it surely goes back further than playing hide-and-seek with the neighborhood kids on Curtis Road; I believe it’s imprinted in our DNA, because humans don’t see well after dark and we’re vulnerable at night.

That vulnerability was on my mind last week when I decided to go for a trail ride around 6:30pm. Not thinking that summer was about over, I said I’d be back in an hour. The problem is that I’m never back in an hour (but I try to be). Just before 7:30 – dusk – I took one last turn onto a trail I love and ended up on the ground, tangled in my bike and hurting like the bejeezus. It had sandwiched my left leg between the handlebar and the frame, with the weight of my body squeezing it like a vise. I did a quick inventory: I had my phone, but how would I tell them where to find me in the dark on trails they don’t know? I needed to shake it off and ride home, but the route was not direct and in the dim light I had trouble choosing the right trails.

Best part was spiders – who love nighttime’s buffet of flying insects – were stringing their webs across the trails at dusk. So as I fumbled my way homeward on the twisting, turning trails I had the opportunity to ride through dozens of webs, wiping them off my face and arms as I went. Once I glanced to my right and saw a giant black spider hanging in the web just as I rode through it, becoming the biggest catch of the night. For a long time afterward I thought that spider was probably climbing up my back as I pedaled toward home and I waited to feel it biting my neck or something. Another reason to be home before dark.

the familiar trails in my back yard look entirely different when it's getting dark and I'm worried about who or what else might be out there

the familiar trails in my back yard look entirely different when it’s getting dark and I’m worried about who or what else might be out there

There are probably tons of coyotes out here, I thought as I tried to recognize the right turns in the dark. And now people are saying they’ve bred with wolves, creating a stronger, faster race of wild animal to avoid. I recalled seeing footprints of a dog on the trails without any accompanying human footprints. It was all I could do to keep myself from riding too fast and accelerating the likelihood of another crash on a tight turn or deep sand despite knowing that I’ve never seen one out here before. The feeling was a lot like waking up at night with an unexplained ache and letting your mind consider all of the horrible diseases it may indicate, all of the ways you may be disfigured and die as the illness progresses. (It can be even worse when using the internet to self-diagnose without the assistance of daylight, reason and a good night’s sleep.)

The worst part of the whole episode was not the crash or the breathless racing through dark trails to get home, it was facing the reality of those concerned for my safety. “Do you see what I have to put up with?” Mike said to Justine with a disappointed nod in my direction. He was less than sympathetic about my crushed leg. I distracted him by asking if there were a giant spider crawling up my back.

A beer and a little ice on the purple welt soothed things a bit. And after today’s jaunt on the river I reminded him that we’re both prone to pushing the envelope, trying to squeeze the last golden drops out of this summer by staying a little too long at the cabin and enjoying the river for more hours than we’d planned.

 

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