Sunday, November 22, 2009
There is a comfortable simplicity about being outside in the world in the hours just before dawn. It’s not the middle of the night when it seems interminable, but when the observant creature can tell that daylight is coming soon. It’s not the middle of the day when activity levels are high. It’s that time when the nocturnal creatures are quieting down, and the crepuscular ones have not yet become active.
I walked down the path through the meadow, this morning when it was still misty from yesterday’s rain. It was overcast and moonless and quite dark, but I could easily see my way as I walked, flanked by this year’s crop of goldenrod, and the shrubs and trees that have begun to fill in what was once a farmer’s field. Nothing I saw seemed to have any color, but I have walked the path so many times that all the larger plants along the path were familiar. Shapes were soft-edged, and only near things were visible. All things were in shades of gray.
The air was almost perfectly still, so there was no chill, and my footfalls were all I heard. The quiet was calming. The only thing that might have surprised me would have been a deer if my approach had first startled it up from its bed alongside the path.
I made my way to the large ash tree where I’ve installed a platform on which our son can play his games. It serves a dual purpose, as I can wait there for white-tail deer to pass by, in hopes of filling our freezer with their flesh.
The ash tree stands along the southern boundary of the field, so it has been shaded on its southern side for most of its life. This prompted one of its branches which grew about fifteen feet northward to branch vertically in several directions, trying to capture as much sunlight as possible with its leaves. The greatest part of the limb is now nearly as big as the main trunk of the tree, more than twice the girth of my body, and its upright branches form an inverted tripod which cradles the platform as if it intended to do so.
I had placed a high-backed office chair there earlier, so I climbed the ladder and sat in it. It was easy, in such a close and quiet world, to relax. All I heard were droplets of water falling from branches, onto this year’s layer of fallen deciduous leaves.
The world, for a time, seemed familiar, small, quiet, and uncomplicated. All that was required of me was to see what I could see, to think my thoughts and, if I could be so skillful and so fortunate, to bring home food for my family. It is so often in such stillness, that wisdom comes to me. Life seemed a process in which success was assured.
But then the neighbor’s cock began to crow. Chickadees and other songbirds began to call. Squirrels began their morning territorial announcements and squabbled over boundaries. One came close and protested vociferously and repeatedly, that I was on its habitual path. I heard ravens’ wingbeats and calls as they passed from one horizon to the other, of my dome of awareness.
It being the first day of big-game hunting season, I began to hear guns going off, first in one direction and then another. Objects took on colors which deepened, and they became hard-edged. As the mist lifted and Old Sol came further around the corner of the world, I saw more and more trees, and at further distances from me. I heard more and more cars on the highway down in the valley, conveying people to their business or pleasure. Canada Geese, all honking at once, flew from wherever they had spent the night, to the beaver pond beyond the highway, for a day of feeding.
Now, in full light, the day seems larger and the world more complicated. Less of it seems within my control, nor even within my ability to influence. I’ll treasure that moment of comfortable simplicity. I’m sure I’ll need to find it again.
copyright 2009 G. Douglas Clarke
- I've been a number of things over the years: husband, father, environmental technical specialist, college instructor, carpenter, volunteer firefighter and ambulance driver, student of Lakota and Japanese languages, technical writer, process engineer, research technician, IT technician, emergency dispatcher, etc.