You can’t trust your senses in these dark autumn mornings.
The wind blows naked trees branches together and they sing like ghosts or maybe a small child in a place where there is no trail and should be no children. Dry leaves chase me down the trail like the sound of quick footsteps, piles of branches look like suspicious structures in the woods. A post with a box on it looks like a person standing very, very still and the draped sleeves of an abandoned shirt tossed on a bush reach across the trail in the gusts.
Three mornings ago I was walking the dogs in the windy dark and freaked myself right out. It didn’t help that the sky was the color of ink and the clouds only a shade lighter. The whitened trunks of cottonwoods were stark in the darkness. The few remaining leaves on bushes are light and dry, rustling like paper. And the dogs raised their noses for long, educational sniffs of all that was out in the woods. I hurried up the trail, impatient with slow Emma, listening to every snapping branch and howling gust, and sought out the hillsides instead of the tangled gullies. The sun was just rising on the way back down the trail and the yellow of the stubbornly blooming ragweed added some cheer and lightness. I laughed at how easily I scared myself. Just a few days before I had been hyper-aware of how comfortable I am on the trails, solo, in the dark, and feeling grateful for it.
And then another thing happened. I picked up my friend Erika for a run yesterday morning as she was texting me the news that an armed gunman was loose in the foothills. I can’t explain why this didn’t worry me. But I figured we would be fine, as a duo, and on the most popular trails. And there was the Big Dipper! And Orion! We saw the headlamps of a couple of runners as we started and then no one. At some point, we saw the bright lights of what could have been police searching far below us. My car was the only one in the parking lot, unheard of for a Tuesday morning, even one that was cold and dark.
It wasn’t until later, after I read the news and learned the guy not only killed a man near the trails, he is also wanted in Colorado for a suspicious death, that he had assaulted his wife, that he had a stash of stolen guns and ammo, that I learned they had closed the trails where we were running after we had run through, that the potential danger of the situation hit me. If I was spooked the day before, this twisted my gut. Violence is not usually random. And, as Erika said, “I thought there would be cops around if we needed to be concerned.” But this was a genuine cold-blooded, really bad dude, hiding out in our foothills after killing a man.
Fortunately, there aren’t a lot of people that choose to hide in the woods. They are inhospitable compared to modern living, even for a criminal. They found the guy downtown, in a library. This was my favorite piece of news, because obviously… I was glad they found him. But also, I need to believe that if you hide in the woods it’s because you don’t want to be bothered. And you won’t bother me and my trail companions in the twilight running club.