The fog outside is so thick. I stare out at it as though staring at it long enough will make it go away. I long to see the stars that are surely shining down already, way up above the clouds. Last night I saw them. I walked out of town, walked and walked until I came to a farmer’s field, when I stepped off the path and started out through the frost-laden dead ends of corn stalks and soft dirt. Someone passing on a bike laughed as I crunched my first few steps, then they were gone and I was alone. I was invisible in the darkness with only stars and moon above. The moon hides tonight, blanketed in the fog. Is she tired of showing her beauty? I should excuse her, but her rest makes me restless. It can be lonely living an ocean away from my family and most close friends, especially in the darkest hours of the winter, but lights in the sky connect us anywhere in the world.
Lethargically I dress for a run. Although the sun set two hours ago, I haven’t been outside yet today. It’ll be cold I’m sure, but I don’t know how much yet. I strap on a headlamp over my hat, just in case, and take a deep breath before opening the door.
It’s cold, the kind of damp cold that immediately cuts through all your layers. I don’t really want to run, so I start walking. After a few minutes I’m still too cold, and I break into a halfhearted jog. I can see maybe fifty feet in front of me. The few people who are outside are nothing but shadows in the smoky air. The world looks like a nightmare, or someone’s idea of a dust-filled apocalyptic afternoon. My hood cuts the air to my ears to the beat of my footfalls. It sounds like a heartbeat, and I imagine I can feel my blood pumping to my own rhythm.
I’m cutting the path to the farmer’s field from last night. After yesterday’s extensive walk, I know the way. I run past a grocery store, still lit. As I’m coming up to it a woman suddenly comes running up on my left. She doesn’t look at me, but runs alongside me for a moment and then slows to a walk. I don’t know why. I keep running. At the end of the street I turn right and suddenly the worn tread of my old trail runners is slipping on the pavement.
There is a different kind of stone here, and it’s slick with frost, but it only lasts a short stretch and soon enough I’m back on sure-footed concrete. Hood off now, the heartbeat of air is gone. Still I beat steadily along the path until I hit the sign that lets me know I’m leaving town. And here I am. I stretch for a few moments, watch a few cars pass by. I can see their headlights, hazy in the fog, far before I feel them close.
Even once the cars are long gone I don’t move right away, opting to remain stationary for a few more breaths. Inhale, exhale. With the weight of the fog pressing in, the world around me is silent. Light from the street lamps shine through the leafless branches of the trees that line the road. These branches cast shadows on the fog, and the rays of light from the lamps look like sunshine trying to break through cloud. Then one lamp flickers, flickers, and goes out. In the darkness behind it looms the field’s emptiness.
I cross the street, step into the farmer’s field. The ground is more solid with the frost, and my shoes are lighter than yesterday’s boots. I tread farther from the softly illuminated pavement, toward the dim whiteness settled on the frozen soil. With the street behind me, there’s no light to break through the fog. In front of me there is nothing but ghostly stillness. The edges of the field are silhouetted with trees. I look up, and I can see the moon’s light shrouded in cloud and fog. I can barely see her, but she is there. For a moment I stand still, silently watching, feeling. Back on the street, a few more cars pass. A couple people and one dog pass. Silence again.
The cold finds my sweaty inner layer; it’s time to move. I look back up and now the moon is hidden completely- but I know she’s there. I head back towards the light on the street, shaking with cold but a little warmer in my mind. As I hit the pavement, I look up at the tree above me, and that’s when I see them.
The stars are absent tonight, but there are stars above me. The tree’s branches are not empty after all. Water droplets on the bark have frozen into tiny orbs that now catch the light from the street lamp above, hold it, and shine it out. They glitter, they twinkle in the swirling fog. I stand there looking up at them until a woman passes with her dog and I become self-conscious. I realize again that I’m cold, but when I move to the other side of the tree I can’t see the spheres anymore.
It’s time to return home. I know now the light is there.