I pulled into the parking lot at the trailhead a little before 6:30 on Thursday morning. The nearby houses were dark. There was one other car, a gold SUV, in the parking lot but no sign of the driver or anyone else. The trail disappeared into darkness until I clicked on my headlamp, creating my little circle of visibility. A half mile in, I perched on the edge of the meadow that sits like a shallow bowl below the hills.
I’ve been on this spot hundreds of times over the last ten years. Coyotes live in the big grove of scrub oaks on the far side of the meadow and I like to take a moment to see if they are around. Silence on this morning, perhaps I was too early. The air temperature at the car was 36 but I knew as I dropped into the meadow it would be 5-10 degrees colder.
As I crossed the meadow and headed up the gully, the hill muffled the grumble of the city. Ice crunched under my shoes, the only sound apart from the slosh of water in the bottle I carried, and my breath. The only light visible was the beacon on top of Ensign Peak and the sparkles of frost in the beam of my headlamp.
As I rounded the traverse and headed up the long hill the very first hints of light outlined Twin Peaks and Little Black Mountain in dark indigo. There was a deep reddish purple tint to the clouds above the Wasatch. I imagined hashtags on my Instagram feed warning of #redskiesinthemorning. I clicked off my headlamp and stopped to watch the colors. Though I had a valley behind me filled with 1 million people there was no one else on that trail, no lights on the ridge or footsteps that I could hear.
At the turnaround point, a flat spot at the bottom of a ridge where I like to stretch, a helicopter took off from the roof of the nearby hospital. I tuned into the airplanes starting the morning rounds. There was enough light to see snow on the Wasatch, patches of oaks on the foothills and the dark shape of a runner coming towards me on the trail. I was not ready to turn off my light as it illuminated the occasional dog turd, birds that flew like shadows into the grass, and tripping hazards like trail-colored rocks. As I called out my usual, “Good morning!” I covered my light with my hand to keep from blinding him.
As I cruised downhill, the trail was suddenly visible beyond my light and as I clicked it off and shoved it in my pocket, the landscape clicked into place. The hillside covered with blonde dry grass, the oak-filled gully, the trail cutting across the face of the hill. The power lines like a Diebenkorn painting against the lightening blue sky.
As I dropped back down into the meadow, just about twilight, I saw some dog walkers and a couple of elderly joggers. The world was waking up. I sprinted back to the car on the flat-ish straightaway.