The darkness in Seattle is a real thing. In the winter it is dark until 8am and dark again by 4pm. I have to strategize, between the rain and the dark, how and when to take my rain-averse dog Freckles out to go poo.
I love the darkness of the morning. It is like a warm blanket of stillness that keeps me warm until the sky lightens. Though there must be people all over the city who, like me, are awake, quietly enjoying these early morning hours, it feels like I am alone in my own tiny universe. My mind is quiet because the world is quiet. There is no news. No footsteps in the house. No delivery trucks outside. The loudest thing is my fingers typing and Freckles breathing.
I remember when I was a girl I used to lock my door, hide away to get quiet from my big, loud family. I didn’t know about the early morning back then. My teenage hormones begged me to sleep longer, getting up much later than the sun’s rise and going to sleep way after its set. Had I known about the magic of the hours before daylight, I might have used those to find the quiet I craved.
We learn that darkness is scary, that ominous things happen in dark hallways and alleys. Growing up in Chicago I learned to fear the darkness of the streets, especially under the viaducts I had to pass through to get to the bus stop and to the train that took me to my dad’s house. I remember the way my heart would race, how I’d hold my breath through the dark until I could reach the light again. Once through the viaduct, in the light of the elevated train platform, I’d feel calm again, like the danger was gone.
The darkness of the morning is different. It is a beginning, an invitation to the light that is coming soon. The darkness of night is a long haul. There’s an eternity of darkness ahead. But the morning darkness is limited. The black sky turns midnight blue, then cobalt blue, then sky blue (or, in Seattle, light gray). And when the light finally comes, so does the awakening around me. Slowly I am joined by my family. I can hear the footsteps of joggers running by my house down to the lake and car doors slamming, answering the calls of the day. The world has arisen to take part in the daylight hours ahead.
Every morning, for the past thirty-five days, my friend Genessa and I have gone swimming in Lake Washington at dawn. The temperature in the air has been between 30 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the water is somewhere between 40–50. It is always cold and sometimes raining, but the combination of the dawn and the submersion into the cold water is profoundly invigorating. We dunk at the tail end of the darkness, emerging out of the frigid lake with a gasp, heart racing, skin tingling, into the light of a new day.