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February 13, 2006


“As the sun set a little firefly was born. It stretched its legs and flew off into the darkening sky. It was a lonely firefly and it flashed its light searching for other fireflies.” – Eric Carle, The Very Lonely Firefly

My long weekend training runs typically start very early. I like to be home in time to spend breakfast with the family, get cleaned up for church, or get started on projects around the house.

For the past few weeks I have done my long runs in the 7,000-acre Fort Ord open space located between Monterey and Salinas. I’ll usually put in about 7-8 miles by myself before meeting others in our running group at daybreak to complete the remaining mileage.

Almost every long run begins in stark darkness. When I run on trails, I use a headlamp to light my path, but the cocoon of light grows quite isolating, and sometimes I’m grateful to hear or observe any signs of life that might occur around me.

“The firefly saw a light and flew toward it. But it was not another firefly. It was a car’s headlights flooding the night.” – E.C.

The first two miles are on a dirt path that runs parallel to the two-lane highway connecting the towns of Monterey and Salinas. Occasionally a car will drive on the road while I’m on the path, but I know I’m virtually undetectable running behind the row of pine trees under cover of darkness.

“The firefly saw a light and flew toward it. But it was not another firefly. It was a lantern glowing in the night.” – E.C.

One side of the open space is flanked by a housing development, and as I climb the first hilly fire roads into Fort Ord, I can see sparse bedroom or kitchen lights casting a dim glow from afar. I know the people inside are slowly awakening, but completely unaware of my faraway presence in the shadows outside their shelters.

“When all was quiet, the firefly flew through the night flashing its light, looking and searching again. Then the very lonely firefly saw what it was looking for…

A group of fireflies, flashing their lights.” – E.C.

On Saturday morning, something unusual happened. As I was climbing to a ridge, I saw flickering lights across a canyon, several miles away. By this time I was far out of sight of any development, so at first I didn’t know what to make of them. But then it hit me…

They were mountain bikers. Other athletes sharing the trails with me in the darkness.

I only saw the lights for a few seconds before they disappeared into the brush and I veered off in a different direction. Our paths never crossed later in the morning. I have no idea who they might have been.

But somehow, just knowing they were out there made me feel much less solitary than I was when I started the run.

It was comforting to know that there was somebody else crazy enough to explore the trails in total darkness. Their flashing lights were a distant affirmation that waking up at 4:30 for a solo trail run just to get my desired mileage completed isn’t really that abnormal – that for some of us, it’s just the way things have to be.

Clearly I’ve read too many children’s books, because as I continued on my way in the dark, and again as I met up with my training partners, the recurring thought in my mind was Eric Carle’s book, and the concise satisfaction of its final page:

“Now the firefly wasn’t lonely anymore.”


backofpack 2/13/06, 1:08 PM  

I love the way your mind works! I'm sure when I'll be thinking of the firefly when I hit the roads tomorrow at o'dark thirty. I love it when I spot another runner, or a biker cruising through the dark. I wonder how often they slip by without me noticing? My favorite thing is when I run into my husband - he's usually headed home to get cleaned up and catch the train to Seattle, I'm usually in my first half mile. We always stop for a chat, a quick kiss and we're off again!

Downhillnut 2/16/06, 6:46 AM  

Beautiful! Of course, I heartily enjoy reading children's books myself. I think I will still be reading them when my kids are grown.

As a shepherd of my fledgling Penguin running club, I very much liked how you tied your firefly to lonely runners!

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