As I left my front gate there is just a hint of pink in the east spawning a prediction that the sun will once again make an appearance. It is still quite dark as I begin my walk. My five miler will be made mostly in the dark. I am attempting to avoid the late July heat which will eventually nudge ninety-five degrees even here in the eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge. I wish I could avoid the humidity which is still quite high at 5:15 this morning. Too soon the humidity will envelope me like a heavy and wet wool blanket. Later I will have to cut grass and will resemble someone who has walked his pet seahorse when my chore is completed.

I think of the old sailor’s proverb, “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” There is just a hint of pink on the horizon and despite the humidity, not enough moisture has collected to form even a thunderhead and we are dry to the point of suffering. I don’t believe “pink” is the new “red.”

Twenty-five minutes later I am “glistening” with perspiration at Lake Lookup. It is still dark but I decide to walk the narrow woodland path circling the lake. For unknown reasons, I find myself compelled to silence my music and just listen…to the darkness. At first all I can hear is the normal and incessant roar which has disturbed my hearing since my early adult years. The buzzing is a product of working in a cotton mill during my youth, sans ear protection, and from standing too close to speakers at “hole-in-the wall” juke joints.

As my miner’s lamp cuts through the darkness several bats take advantage of the insects attracted to the cone of light, causing me to duck despite the knowledge the furry flyers have great sonars. There is a haunting “WHO…WHO…WHO” calling out to me from the distant hill crest and the rustle of what I hope are small animals scurrying away through the leaves.

I am surprised at how quiet it is. Not at all like last night with the cicadas “screeching” into the night. I am alone with only the sounds of my footfalls to break the silence…and the bull frogs. Not the deep bass “ribbits” I would have expected, these are more tenor in pitch and produced a sound more like “gah-lup, gah-lup, gah-lup.” The frogs are lined up on the narrow, root strewn lake path facing toward the lake, hoping their breakfast hops or flies by. Instead it is only me and they don’t even move. Frozen by the beam of my light, they glisten green, yellow and black, their little eyes reflecting my light back at me. As I walk on, carp begin to roll close to the lake bank, their splashes causing the only ripples on the still, black surface of the lake…until I scare a beaver swimming in the lake’s small inlet. His tail slap reverberates like a gunshot and evokes the “flight” reflex from me.

It is lighter now but gray is still the dominant color. The gurgling of a small waterfall temporarily drowns out the darkness until I can hear the calls of “early” birds “looking for the worm to catch.” The world is waking up. It is comforting to know the earth is still spinning, continuing it’s trip around the sun. It is a welcomed calm “listening to the dark,” before I face the day.

More nonfiction by Don Miller is available at

2 thoughts on “LISTENING TO THE DARK

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