DULUTH — The yellow dog leads me into the woods. She knows the trail well.
It’s an hour after sunrise at the height of summer. Sunlight comes slanting through the old pines and greets the brown-eyed Susans in the meadow. The song sparrow holds forth from somewhere in a stand of birches where he always seems to be.
Nobody else is around except for one mountain biker who passes almost silently behind me on a different trail. He, too, knows the joy of moving through the woods when the day is young. Or maybe he’s just stealing a ride before his workday begins.
I will admit it: I’m addicted to being out in these low-light hours. The yellow dog comes by it second-hand, but I think she is hooked, too.
It isn’t just the buttery light in the hour or so beyond dawn. It’s the impression that, except for the distant whisper of tires on asphalt, you might think you’re the only ones out scuttling around the planet.
I need no earbuds piping music to my ears. The ovenbirds and veery thrushes and chipping sparrows are my playlist. Traveling these familiar trails, I call up memories of so many other early-morning rambles — a robin with a brilliant orange mountain-ash berry in its beak, a Canada goose banking low overhead by the pond, the yellow dog flushing an entire family of ruffed grouse from a thicket.
But something else happens on these post-sunrise sojourns, too. Maybe it’s something about the quiet, the moving along, the way the cool lies low on the land. All of it must release something in my ancient gray matter upstairs. Fresh, unexpected thoughts come bubbling to the surface.
New possibilities take flight. Ideas are born. Problems that have been lurking in the corners of my mind suddenly seem to have reasonable solutions. Options that didn’t seem tenable before now appear to be completely appropriate.
Why is that? What is it about moving through the unpeopled woods soon after dawn that opens one’s eyes to new patterns of thought?
Our midday minds, cluttered with to-do lists and mired in familiar patterns, seem to keep leading us down the same dead-end rabbit warrens. But in the rarefied light of early morning, your mind seems to open all receptacles to fresh thought. Limits are no longer apparent. Fresh choices simply appear.
Hike all of the Superior Hiking Trail later this summer? Why not? Paddle the border route to Lake Superior again? Sure. Move to Canada? France? Switzerland? People do, you know.
Amid this open floodgate of potential pathways, I stop at a familiar promontory overlooking a lush valley, a distant cemetery, the great blue forever of Lake Superior.
I sit for some time. The rock is cool. The air seems fresh-scrubbed. The yellow dog laps rainwater that has collected in a depression in the rock.
This being alive again today — what a good deal.