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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Early Morning in the Atlas

I woke minutes before my alarm went off this morning. As it began its incessant beeping next to my head, I stirred beneath my warm mound of blankets and swore softly. 7:00 am is early, especially here in the High Atlas at the beginning of winter. But knew I had to get up this time; I wanted to run. I remember the last time I really ran, a full year ago, barefoot on the beach in North Carolina as the sun rose sluggishly above the breakers and seabirds wheeled, crying above the surf, searching for breakfast. I ran a couple of times at the beginning of my service here, slowly and painfully between spells of illness. But now I have been well for almost a month and can feel my strength slowly returning. It is time to go again.


I pull on an 80s style tracksuit that I bought at the market a few weeks ago, and a baseball cap with the Colorado flag on it, and pound down my front stairs to the street. I open the door slowly to silence and stillness. It is bitterly cold and my breath turns to steam in the air before me. No one is in sight, most everybody is still asleep at this time of morning. I lock the door behind me and walk to the edge of the fields, where I begin to run. Frost covers the ground in a thick blanket of silver, every blade of grass or ploughed furrow of earth made ethereal and ghostlike. The morning sun blazes on the mountain tops above the village, but the valley floor where I stand is still thick with cold and shadow. The only sound in I can hear is the pounding of my feet on the pavement and the rhythm of my breathing.

Across the wide swath of the fields, another small village is perched on a long fin of dark stone. Smoke trails from the stove pipes of several of the mud houses and rolls across the grounds, the cold making it impossible to rise. Everywhere holds the air of sleep and perfect peace. Out across the fields a lone farmer slowly makes his way out to his land. He is a small dark figure against the silver frost and the bone-white trunks of the bare poplars that grow along the River Melloul.

The sun begins to shine over the summit of the folded mountain and I watch as morning and warmth comes slowly to the valley. Later, on my roof, I stretch and drink a cup of coffee. The frost is melting from the fields and color is slowly returning to my village. Down below a group of children chases a pair of Storks, their feet pounding on the bare ground; they laugh as the Storks float upward and away, like great kites against the mountain backdrop. The smoke is rising now, forming neat plumes above the village near the river; spiraling, twisting, and dissipating in the warming air. Soon all is as usual in my village in the Atlas, the sun has come and the light is the even and constant gold of Fall. This was worth waking up for.