Yesterday, I took an early-morning turn around Green Lake. At this time of year in the Pacific Northwest, that means I was was out walking for four miles in the dark. In the thick fog we have been having daily, it was decidedly dim. I could barely discern the sky beginning to turn from coal black to gunmetal gray.
There was something welcoming about moving through the gloom. It had been some time since I had been at the lake this early this late in the season and it felt good to be continuing my summer activities into the shortening days. I heard the familiar crunch of the gravel path beneath my invisible feet as I made my way along guided by the reflection of far-off traffic on the water and occasional washes of headlights through the trees; there were no stars or moon. Now and again I would move into a pool of yellow light cast by the lamp of a yet-unopened restroom, gradually entering the dull illumination and retuning again to the still darkness ever beyond its feeble reach. In this manner I proceed through my circuit of the lake in the quiet of the park.
From time to time however, this shadowy landscape was broken by a bright light, harsh and white, as a runner, or more frequently a cyclist, would approach from the opposite direction with the blazing halogen of an LED headlamp. These intense and incredibly white lights glowed like miniature suns: small, silent atomic explosions sailing through the darkness. Not only did they punch a jagged hole in the grayscale fabric of the morning, but their brightness would take away whatever night-vision I had developed. After they passed the world around me was even darker and I could no longer see the subtle gradations that I had been able to distinguish before.
Each time this happened, I could not begrudge these people their bubble of light - their safety, their comfort, whatever it represented. Some of them were likely commuters, needing a safe and efficient journey at the start their working day. I did wonder, however, about our tendency as a society toward solving problems with technology - and often with individual technology - rather than other cultural choices. I thought about unintended consequences, and points of view, and the rights and responsibilities of shared civic spaces. I thought about grace and how infrequently it is a criterion in our decision-making processes.
And then I closed my eyes for a moment or two to let my pupils dilate so that I could once again take in the details of the dawning day as I tread through the dark.