If confessions are good for the soul, this'll be great. But before I disburden myself, join me on a little journey.
A few summers ago, I took a motorcycle tour of the rugged west coast of Scotland. My tour guide, a boisterous and ribald native Scot, took us to sites only the locals would know.
One was a re-creation of a Stonehenge-era village at the northern tip of the Isle of Skye. Skye is a rugged, defiant, soggy land jutting boldly into the North Atlantic. The village was on a treeless slope, angled toward the green, tempestuous sea. The day was chilly and wind-wisped with a spitting rain.
Here's the punch line: It was midsummer, in July.
The dwellings were tiny cylindrical huts, half-buried in the turf with thatched roofs and stone walls. A low stone wall encircled the village.
That day, my mind raced back 5,000 years and I pictured an imaginary soul mate, a man my age living there. But the sadist in me thought of him not in summertime, but enduring a February, fully 40 days past the sun's nadir.
If midsummer's weather had been dreadful, what of midwinter? Being far north, the days would have been excruciatingly short, with a reluctant sun rising late in the morning, perhaps peeking out from persistent cloaks of gray, sending cloud-shadows racing across the fields, giving way too quickly to crepuscular gloom.
Daily life for my imaginary friend, clad in a matted red beard and an animal-skin coat, would have been made up of the yin of the bone-chilling, slimy-wet outdoors and yang of the dank, dusky indoors. Pick your poison.
I imagined him spending countless hours, immobile, huddled before an acrid, malodorous peat-moss fire smoldering on the floor of the hut.
I couldn't even imagine what he ate for dinner, much less how he grew, caught, stored or prepared it. Where and upon what did he sleep and how did he bathe, if he ever did? Was he afraid of the dark? Did he shiver all winter?
With neither MTV, bowling leagues nor "Desperate Housewives," did his lexicon include a word for "fun"?
I think of him again tonight, as I wantonly, remorselessly defy the law, trespassing, hiking a nearby bicycle trail after dark against posted rules.
Shasta, our rescue dog, and I often do this together during the winter months, she being an enthusiastic companion when nobody else will go.
It's cold this night, subfreezing but with calm, still air and a brilliant moon. I welcome the lack of wind that allows a level of awareness much greater than otherwise.
As I hit stride, leafless tree branches cast lines of shadow and light on the trail. My breath condenses in a cloud; so does Shasta's. A creek gurgles nearby.
Let us not be so cynical as to think the posted after-dark prohibition is merely to punish would-be users, but to provide some measure of safety.
Most of us are conditioned to fear the dark. Yet this moon allows surprising sight distances and illuminates the color in my blood-red gloves.
The constellation Orion, the Goliath of the sky, sits above me just about where my prehistoric Scotsman would have seen it. We moderns know so much more about Orion and all the constellations than he, owing to our amazing technology and discovery. Yet I can only imagine this man would have had equal intellectual powers to mine to wonder, appreciate or scorn his world.
I know, but he would not, that the Big Bang put Orion in our sky and we in its. Yet I resist feeling superior, as his knowledge of the night sky would have overwhelmed mine - and he knew vastly more than I how to survive in a cruel, forbidding place.
Where the trail takes me across a paved road, I think to myself what I'd say if apprehended. "Forgive me, officer," I'd plead. "I have this compelling urge to be cold."
A pinpoint of light drifts silently across the sky, the telltale of a satellite. I approach a trail-side tree and see a visage of one of the huts, but getting closer I see that it's a bicycle wheel, hanging like artwork from a branch. Shasta lopes along silently, effortlessly.
There are scattered houses nearby, one with a TV on, showering the curtains with flickering light, stupefying its viewers.
My daughter once said she didn't like hiking much. "I spend too much time in my head." True enough. But I revel in the self-entertainment.
Walking a trail on a quiet night surely has dangers, but I banish them.
I'm armed with nothing but a flashlight that I don't use. I walk along, appreciating the stillness. Inexplicably, the chill is welcome. In its discomfort I feel an affinity to those who have come before and hopefully those who will come afterwards.
Michael Abraham is a quintessentially local guy who'd always rather be on two wheels than four.