The Jupiter Tree

I set off. Running on icy roads on Winter nights when the fields are covered in snow is a precarious activity. You seek out the crunchy bits underfoot and avoid the darker, smoother bits. If your feet stop crunching on the frozen snow you know you’re likely to go for a Burton.

I know a point on the roadside exactly a mile away from the gate. When I reach it I’ll turn round and come back. Roughly half way there, I come to the edge of the village. All of a sudden there are no more houses – and no more lights. The dark shapes of trees and bushes loom up around me. On the ground, by starlight, I can just distinguish those dark, potentially icy parts of the road from the snow.

I’m almost a mile out. I come to a short, steep hill. I’ve been slightly worried about this ever since the start but it turns out to be not as slippery as I expected it to be. I soon find myself at the top, running along the edge of the moor. It’s not far from here to the “one mile” point. I feel a sense of satisfaction when I reach it: not because I want the run to be over with but because up until this point I’ve been running West, into the oncoming weather. The Western sky is full of cloud. The view on the return leg is far preferable: I’m now running downhill, back towards the village. A dark landscape studded here and there with man-made lights falls away from my feet. Overhead, the sky is clear and full of stars. Jupiter lies straight ahead.

It’s not long before I’m back among the lights of the village and not long after that before I find myself back at our gate. I run on past it, as I usually do, to the end of the lane. Once there, I stop. I stand and stare. A shower of fine, crystalline snow is falling. I feel it rattle on the crumpled hood of my waterproof. One of the great things about running is that when you stop you feel warm, whatever the weather. Stood in a snow shower surrounded by snow and ice I feel no discomfort (although I might if I stand for too long). This probably serves to intensify what I’m feeling at this point. How can I put it? It’s a feeling of no longer being an individual but merely a part of everything (which we all are, of course). I feel not like a transitory, running blogger but like the whole universe looking out through the eyes of that transitory, running blogger. Jupiter hangs between the branches of a nearby tree. It -and the stars around it- feel to be merely a distant part of what I am, what we are. How long I’ve stood there staring, I’m not sure. Long enough. The transitory, running blogger reasserts itself. It’s time to go in.

Once in, I grab a ballpoint pen and a pad of paper. I write. I keep writing for several minutes. Then I stop and read what I’ve written. It’s almost right, almost what I meant to say, but not quite. Writing down exactly what I felt out there in the lane turns out to be impossible, like trying to recall, on waking, a dream I’ve already begun to forget.

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15 thoughts on “The Jupiter Tree

  1. Is a “Burton” some kind of rhyming slang? If it is, it’s one I have never heard. I envy you this experience, but not enough to gear up and brave the Canadian winter and the treacherous roads outside my door.

    1. I remember hearing first hand about those Canadian winters! Perhaps I’ve told you this before? I stayed briefly on a farm in Canada. It was probably not far from Toronto. It lay in a vast, flat landscape with long straight roads flanked by telegraph poles. My hosts told me how when it snowed in the winter they could just see where the road lay by the tips of the telegraph poles and how they dug a tunnel every year through the snow to the cowshed. I was there in the Summer, so never saw this first hand. I did see the most amazing thunderstorm, though. The sky was riven all over with lightning and the rain was so heavy the van we were in had to stop. I had never experienced anything like it. However, weather patterns have changed slightly in the UK during my lifetime and a few storms in recent years have at least reminded me of that Canadian experience.

      As for “going for a Burton”, it was probably stiff-upper-lip WWII RAF pilot slang for crashing. There was (and still is, I think) a Burton’s brewery. If there was an empty chair at the table, the suggestion was that the person not sitting in it might have gone to the pub.

      1. My dad would probably have know that term, although he was in the army, not the RAF.
        Our weather hasn’t changed too much, except we get slightly milder winters. Our summertime weather is hot, humid and we have the worry of tornadoes on a pretty regular basis.

        I’m not sure if you did tell me that you spent time in Ontario. Then again, my memory isn’t very good when dealing with information that I’ve only read. If we’d had a conversation in person, I would most likely recall it.

  2. Lovely piece of writing. My reading however was rather punctuated by worrying whether you ran up the moor Road and out on to the Tank Road and whether or not you had a very bright jacket on. I fear for your safety when the nights are dark and the roads are slippery. One slip when a car is coming is enough. I lovely the imagery of Jupiter hanging in the tree.

  3. Yes I did. Yes, I had a high-viz jacket on. I always take my mobile, too. I met someone I knew the other evening in the village who expressed surprise that I was running in the dark. It occurred to me that over the last 25 years or so I’ve run the majority of the miles I’ve run, in the dark. I think it helps if you drive yourself – you know drivers are not infallible and you also know just how invisible a pedestrian can be.

  4. I had always thought, but I don’t know why, that “going for a Burton” had something to do with Burton’s Tailors where you buy a cheap suit, as I did when I started work 50 years ago.

    1. You’re right. That’s another possible origin. My favourite though is the RAF one as it’s the possible origin which most seems to resemble the meaning of the expression as used.

      Had it not predated the TV series Silent Witness it might have had it’s origins in being autopsied by Pathologist Sam Ryan (aka actress Amanda Burton). 🙂

  5. A wonderful piece, Dominic. Your night run in icy conditions is completely in keeping with the spirit of the quote in my current posting about taking life head on, saying “yes” to everything, in order that one may know the “magnificent geography” of life, not just its length.

    1. I’ve just reread your “Saying Yes…” post. I’ve had trouble trying to post comments on it tonight – so I’ll post what i was going to say here. When the vicissitudes kick in, I suppose the challenge is to seek out the “magnificent geography” of the commonplace?

      Taking up your comment on my “icy run” post, I often go out for walks at night in the fields round where we live. A walk on a starry night is always an adventure.

  6. Hi Dominic,

    I’m happy to have found your current blog. I loved this post and the photos from the last as they are so different from where I live presently. It is raining here and though I’ve rarely been in snow and could never run the way you do, I appreciate both the photos and the imagery. Thanks for your tip about the left-handed guitar. I am searching for one to see if I might learn to play it a bit.Thanks again.

  7. I like your precise and evocative description, but beyond this am glad you captured and reported the timeless moment when you escaped the prison of individuality and merged with the universe. And then your acknowledgement that it is impossible to write down exactly what you felt. I’m glad to have discovered your site! (via Blaugustine)

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