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Caught inside an electrical storm, a terrible beauty is born

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You try to count seconds between lightning and thunder but there’s no interval. You’re inside the storm, baby, rain-beaten and pressed against the base of a dune topped with burnt and stunted shrubs, while a woman you love trembles against your chest. You wrap yourself around her, yet you’re scared too—you’d be lying to say otherwise—as very air explodes incandescent white.

Looking back to that existential spell, you taste regret that it’s over, and then you understand why soldiers return to war zones. Why battling spouses rekindle fires of passion….

But I’m ahead of my story, which is this:

We awoke in the middle of our last night at our latest favorite campsite, awakened by a three-quarters moon shining above our tent.

“Let’s run by moonlight,” I said.

Jeanne’s a good distance runner, so we’d planned to spend our last morning at the beach running to the tip of the peninsula the campground shares with a wildlife preserve. That destination was six or seven miles distant, so we’d be running at least 13, and I wanted none of the fierce heat daylight serves at St. Joseph Peninsula in June.

“It’ll be cool both ways,” I pressed, “and just bright enough to see the waterline.” That’s where the footing is firm we discovered our first day here.

Climbing from our tent, we sipped coffee, donned running shorts and secured camp. The moon shone gold vermilion, and by the time we navigated the path to the boardwalk down to the sea, old Luna had dropped behind a bank of steel gray clouds.

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Still, faint light of predawn filtered in from the bayside and we could see the scalloped waterline washing the sand solid and friendly to barefoot runners.

Through ambiance of dawn we ran rugged coastline as delicate white crabs skittered among our steps, seeking safety of ocean. Driftwood, bottles and shells washed in, as pelicans and gulls soared along the beach.

Each bend brought another craggy dune into view as blue dawn blended with tangerine and chartreuse and day broke over us like a dream.

Like children we anticipated arrival—how far now—until hopes a park ranger on a four-wheeler burbled past to tell us we still had at least a mile and a half to go, his the only human voice we’d hear that morning.

A mile and a half. Of course. Running shifting waterlines along scalloped coasts adds miles to a journey. Still we pressed until at last we basked in weightlessness of warm waters at the point. Across the bay we could make out houses of Mexico Beach, where we’d vacationed when our children were young.

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Turning back was a bleak trek. We were down to a cupful of water between us, and stamina was wearing thin. The risen sun painted us red and copper on the journey back.

Jeanne turns such runs into meditations, picturing loved ones in turn and presenting them to God’s grace, you could say. At times I bend the practice to my own ways, tracing families and friends into distant generations and geographies.

Our trances offered solace of distraction only so long, and we began stopping to dip in Gulf tides to cool parched skin, taste weightlessness and cessation from placing one foot before the other. Running again, it was disheartening to recognize driftwood and shells we’d seen on the journey out and realize how far we had yet to go.

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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, short story writer, freelancer, and the founding editor and publisher of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of literary stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the (more...)

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