The autumn light, sideways blue and yellow, allows me to travel through it, running. Summer’s greens and browns split down the middle into the last red and yellow leaves hanging in the dense blue of the sky. It has been raining and there is a brightness everywhere. Tiny expanses of standing water send rays of light scattering unpredictably. There is a stillness to the air and the temperature has dropped, causing a sudden leaf fall. Trees stand in lakes of color rather than shadows. Cherries rise from puddles of red fading out through orange to pale yellow, acers from drifts of red gold stars and gingkoes from piles of yellow axes. The year is passing, or as American English would have it — falling — like the leaves and though I run, I am not going anywhere.
There’s a line in the I Ching somewhere that speaks of how water follows gravity, taking the path of least resistance, and how, as it runs, no obstacle can stop it — only divert it. Christopher Williams’ The Origins Of Form, a generalist treatise on shape in time, opens by tracing the journey of a single hydrogen atom from “the vent of a bubbling charging car battery in the turbulent engine compartment of a speeding car” to a molecule of water on the wind, to an alfalfa plant, then a hair follicle on the hide of a cow. The trace of my breath, visible in the air before me has me bid a few molecules farewell. I am sweating and thinking of the water that must be drunk to replace liquids lost, my exertion or penance or meditation or whatever, incomplete without it. I tell myself that by drinking water I am like the trees and the light, a thing that both flows and through which other things flow; an accumulation of paths, finding its way.
The glass of water allows the autumn light, sidewise blue and yellow, to travel through it. The same light that the plastic prism on my windowsill is splitting into a rainbow on its third vertical face and that the multi-faceted glass drop, hanging from a red thread at about the same height as the prism, is using to turn the cherry tree behind it upside down. It is this light that first the window, then the cherry tree, is framing. As always after a run my hands shake more than they usually do with warmth and adrenaline from exertion and the glass of water is filled close to the brim and as it pours into my mouth water spills from the corners and falls in cold streams down my neck.
It is not easy for me to allow the water to travel through me, though of course I understand the necessity of it. As a child all water scared me, the sea, swimming pools, the shivers of wet skin after immersion. Part of me is always amazed that I survive drinking water, that my cells can absorb it without it first being warmed and adulterated with sugar or salt. This sounds dramatic but the eccentricities of proprioception cannot be described without a certain amount of amplification. There is a resistance to being filled up with the cold and heavy, in spite of real thirst, but water must be drunk after running. At any other time of day I might pour myself a glass, or accept one from a companion and then procrastinate over bringing it to my lips, sometimes for hours, even delighting if it happened to be knocked over. In general I resist the desire of water to be drunk but I have made this glass a promise.
Salty drops still stand on my upper lip and forehead, the air outside too cold for them to evaporate as they did earlier in the year, into crystals. The glass is upright now in my hand and the air that I gasp for fills my lungs. The cold lights up my stomach with momentary shock. There is the relief of hydration as reward for my self-control and the release at the completion of a ritual. Post-exercise dopamine floods my system. I have swallowed cold and light and color. Waves move concentrically across the surface of the water in the glass but the light dances and contorts, casting interference patterns below the surface and through the sides of the glass. Droplets run down the sides of the glass and over my hand.