A totally inert Christmas day in the country was drawing to a close. After eighteen hours of opening gifts, playing DS & Wii, napping, eating too much and sporadic belts of Jose Cuervo Gold, it was nearly bedtime. I shooed the dogs off the couch and made it up with sheets and a pillow and while doing so realized I had not yet been outside that day. I love how farmland looks in the winter. The palette is whittled down to a splinter, whites and blacks and browns and greens so low and flat they might as well be browns; all details rendered against the snow in a striking, graphic way. Long meandering walks, cutting straight through fields and forests, as led by a longtime friend whose mother’s house I was visiting were practically a holiday tradition, one which had gone unobserved this year.
It was just after midnight and just above freezing and raining hard, but I’d at least go out for a while to get the blood flowing and abide my one of my oldest rules, to go outside at least once every day.
I threw on my boots, hat, scarf and jacked on autopilot. Earphones in, music on and out the door. It was dark out, and wet; lots of both and perilously slippery. I made it about a quarter of the way to the road before realizing that my wearing my earphones was foolish for a few reasons, but it was the thought of drunken Christmas drivers on thickly iced country roads that got them out of my ears and lost somewhere in my scarf. Instead of music, the incessant staccato of raindrops on my parka and the low throatless rustle, an ever-breaking wave of wind and rain on snow and bare branches.
This is very settled land – farmland, dotted with countless townships and near many small cities – but as I trudged out into the night, strange, groundless fears twitched their closed, rheumy eyes and shifted under heavy blankets of science and society. I could see superstitions out there. No matter how brief my trip, being alone, cold, wet, and near blind by night, wind and rain made every discounted fear seem plausible. There were unexplained things out in the reaches, things never lit by electric light or measured by a universal metric.
I was out for ten minutes, maybe, before I realized that so far the rain had been at my back and would be in my face on the return journey. I stood for a moment at a bend in the road. I couldn’t see much more than the next house down the road, gaudy with its Christmas lights and the regular actinic flashes of a beacon by the lake. The low black sky was warmed by streetlights of the city twenty-five kilometers north. I slipped and swore on rain-slick ice and walked the road past the unsettling choir grove of spruce and poplar and back to my brief home and bed.