My best and brightest moments each day are when I’m soaking up the daylight with my family. So with that in mind, let me tell you what my 37-minute-long 6:00 evening commute feels like in the waning, light-draining days of October.
It feels like I’m breathlessly racing the sunset, hands tightly gripping the steering wheel, using the passing lane as a strategic ally, gunning it with white knuckles through every yellow stoplight, wincing with furrowed brow at every red one, inwardly cursing slow drivers in front of me, helplessly watching the sun drop toward the horizon, trying not to think about where that sun will be at the same time next week or *gulp* next month, hoping that by playing the angles and taking calculated risks (with the help of my traffic app) I can preserve every precious available second of daylight, all so that I can whisk my wide-eyed kids outside for a fleeting but fantastically fortifying 9-minute walk in the dusky woods, the pastel glow of the sky rapidly fading above us, before darkness quietly and unsympathetically blankets the world.
Or, you know, something like that.
The time crunch is tricky, and the struggle is real. For instance, on Monday I left work at 6:01, the sun officially set at 6:20, and I arrived home at 6:37. You might think that wouldn’t give me any daylight to work with, but you’d be pleasantly mistaken. I took Greyson and Violet outside immediately — thanks to the ever-wonderful Danielle having them bundled up and ready to go — and stayed out until dinner was ready at 6:50, a full 30 minutes after the sun had technically disappeared from view. Residual daylight is a wonderful thing, and highly underappreciated by those who assume that if it looks dark outside, then it’s too dark to go outside.
(There is a strange optical illusion at play here. Dusk looks like nighttime when viewed through a window. But if you walk outside, you’ll often be shocked at how much you can still see. Eyes are the windows to the soul, but windows, as it turns out, are not always to be trusted as the eyes of the house.)
It takes a lot of intentional effort to preserve every precious one of my 7-9 minutes of residual daylight (on my 6:00 workdays) this time of year. But man oh man do my boy and girl make it well worth the effort.
One night this week, Greyson pointed up at the sky and said gleefully, “The sky has some pink and some peach and a little purple and maybe some blue!” This is roughly what I say to him each time we see the sunset, so it warms my autumnally cooling heart to hear him mimic my words, and my sense of wonder. Especially since the sky wasn’t actually all that colorful on this particular night, given the lateness of the hour. Maybe he was just describing the colors that are ever-present in his vividly hued imagination. He must be a rose-colored (or in this case a pink-and-peach-and-purple-colored) optimist like all Wingert boys tend to be.
As for Violet, when she’s not quietly observing the world she points with her tiny index finger at things above and around her in nature and says “Ba!” or “Ma!” Which I think reveals a deeply reflective nature that will invariably blossom into wonderful traits and artistic abilities we can’t even currently envision or fathom.
Walking through the woods across from our house, Greyson’s little hand in mine while I hold Violet snugly in the crook of my other arm, is one of my preeminent joys in life. The longer family jaunts through the countryside that all 4 of us take when I get off work at 5:00 are even better. (And wow am I grateful that I married a fellow lover of nature walks.) But when I have minimal daylight to work with, and I’m outside with one or both of the kids to myself, I love making those minutes count.
It’s amazing how much you can pack into a 9-minute conversation when there are no indoor distractions. I review the day with them (“What did you read about today, Greyson?”), do my best to set the stage for the day to come, and try to convey an awe for the wonders of the natural world. Through the wide eyes and keen ears of my kids, I always see and hear much more in nature than I would have on my own. But even beyond anything we say or see or hear, the physical bond of just being connected at the hand (Greyson) or at the chest (Violet) is a sensory gift beyond compare.
So I will continue seizing these autumnal “remains of the day” as long as I possibly can. Because these evening moments in nature with my family are what makes an otherwise ordinary, possibly forgettable weekday remain firmly embedded in my memory.
I don’t live to work; I work to live. My family is my life. My job could never be my life. So most everything that precedes these nature moments each weekday is prologue. But our evening walk?
That’s the symphony.