Desk Notes explores writing, travel, and literature—with a new issue every Friday.
During an early morning walk this week, I noticed how the first hints of dawn come with a soft violet color, now that the colder days have arrived. This isn’t the fiery, radiant light of a summertime morning, as December days open with more of a whimper, in a glow that’s sluggish and faint and rather delicate. Between the overnight blackness and the midday brightness there is this muted, dreary tint, it is a thin coat of paint that sweeps across the landscape, it is a violet stain for the bare trees, the empty sidewalks, the distant buildings.
And this new cold greets me right when I close my door, a slap against my skin, despite my gloves, scarf, and hat. Even with the thick gloves I feel the chill in my fingers. Even with the heavy scarf I feel the gusts on my neck. Even with the wool hat I feel the wind as bitter, abrasive, almost rude in its intrusion. Walking faster does help to tame the chill just a bit, though I still, in every breath, flood my lungs with a gulp of frigid air.
A yellowish streetlight around the corner reveals the empty sidewalk ahead. So now the morning appears even darker because this light overpowers all those dawn violets. Soon, of course, the sun will ignite every leafless tree and shuttered home and vacant park, its glare a conclusion to the wistful dawn.
But there’s first a moment when my left foot strides forward and finds a surprise. In this precise moment I feel a surge, a thunderous impulse of tightening muscle, a gasp for air, a sharpness of sensation; and this precise moment arrives with an intensity that might even be called beautiful—a flash in the crisp air, along the gray sidewalk, amid the silence—as I feel a severity that shakes off every possible worry and anxiety and silly qualm; there’s a capaciousness to my sensations, I feel them surge through me, until there’s nothing else at all; there’s not any memory of playing in the wet, heavy snow as a small child, of how I build forts and tunnels and construct whole cities with mounds of snow, my fingers numb inside my gloves; there’s not any memory of how winter swim practice ends with drills, of how losing means a run outside in the cold, wearing nothing but a suit, soaked and dripping from the pool, the fluffy snow a thousand knives on your bare feet; there’s no memory at all of driving down an unplowed river road after a heavy storm, of the red car parked at a slant across two lanes, of how the distance and speed guarantees a crash, of how the tires, without any steering, veer right and follow the ice-worn grooves around the red car like tracks for a train; instead, there’s only a precise moment, which arrives with the most infinitesimal of sensations, with a potency that erases the past and dismisses the future; thus all of this comes with a gasp, and a tightening of muscle, because the entire world, for just this moment, drops away, as my foot discovers ice.