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Commentary: The strange beauty of hiking in the dark

Commentary: The strange beauty of hiking in the dark
Reg Green: "I have always wanted to stand tall but my shadow from the rising sun isn't what I had in mind." (Courtesy of Reg Green)

As always, putting the clocks back is overturning the world for early risers. What was a 6 o’clock hiking start in the dark is suddenly broad daylight. It’s a gain in some respects, of course, but it takes away some of the most beguiling moments of being outdoors.

I will admit that on some days before the hour came off the actual moment of getting out of bed, with black night as a backdrop, made me less enthusiastic than Lazarus in a similar situation. But once at the trailhead the strange beauty of the darkness made the idea of sleeping in seem not just pampered but sinful.

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Before the memory of it goes, let me try to capture how it has been for the last few weeks when, moving from the continuous line of cars commuting from Palmdale on Route 2 into the silence of the national forest fire road, was to step in literally a couple of minutes from the hurly burly world of going to work into a sort of eternity under the stars.

I am sure of only two constellations. One is the Big Dipper with, amazingly, the one fixed star around which everything else rotates. I have no idea why that should be but I swallowed the concept with my mother’s milk and it always gives me a sense of achievement at being able to find it in that uncountable population.

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The other constellation is the Heavenly Twins right in front of me as I start up the hillside. It’s another mystery: our twins were born within 10 minutes of each other. These two stars are 16 light years apart. Yet they have stayed together for an unimaginable length of time and to the casual observer show no sign of getting tired of each other.

It’s true, you can’t actually hear the famed music of the spheres but even in those few steps from the road the silence is deep enough that you become aware of the flapping wings of a bird overhead. A few days ago, hearing me coming, an unseen animal broke out of the undergrowth and ran up the steep hillside. Mostly, however, I’m entirely alone.

On a couple of days recently in the silvery light I have had the uncanny feeling that someone was walking beside me, only to remember that it was my shadow cast by the moon, high up in a clear sky. By the time I am at the same point on my way back, it will be the sun, 92 million miles further away and low on the horizon, making that shadow.

So much in so small a space. As William Blake said, you can see the world in a grain of sand. He should know: he’s also eternal.

Reg Green lives in La Cañada. His website is nicholasgreen.org.

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