Living just a few hundred miles further west than we were means the sun rises and sets about 15 minutes later than I’ve been used to. I wouldn’t have expected this to make much of a difference but it does. Already the mornings seem very much darker than I remember in autumns past. And I like it. I’m enjoying waking up in the dark; the bed warm and cosy; the bedroom chilly, making it that little bit easier to stay wrapped in the duvet. If I’m lucky, Harri will be still sleeping quietly somewhere on the bed. It’s a good time for letting my thoughts drift drowsily; a good time for gratitude. The world is waking up; the whole day stretches before me:
“What am I going to do with my one wild and precious life?” (i)
If I’m extra lucky Harri will sense me stirring and start to purr lazily. A warm bed, a contented purring cat, the freedom to get up when I choose: life is good. I’m a creature of the seasons: in the spring and summer I sleep less and crave the early risings. Post autumnal equinox I start to hibernate and bed becomes hypnotic and enticing.
Whatever time of year, most days I no longer have need of an alarm clock; I wake when I want.
Unless Harri thinks otherwise. Sometimes she’s hungry; she’s decided it’s breakfast time. She’ll pat and paw and putter about on the bed, generally making her presence felt and there will be no further rest to be had. A feline alarm clock.
This morning was one of those mornings. I wanted to stay abed; she did not. It was in fact nearing 7.30 by the time I gave in to her, so I can hardly complain. Though complain I did – for at least the first couple of minutes. Muttering and mumbling I wrapped myself in my much-loved tatty old towelling dressing gown and padded up the stairs. And then my complaining stopped. I entered into the magic. The view from here was mesmerising.
My timing – Harri’s timing – was absolutely right. A wonderful morning was waiting for me: the sky clear, the waning moon high and bright. The grass across the valley was lightly frosted.
Also across the valley is a single house: planted in the middle of the fields with no road access, nestling comfortably in the landscape. And for just a very few moments on a sunny morning, if the timing is right, I see the windows of this house light up. They are aflame with the first flickers of the early sunrise, dazzlingly bright, reflecting back those first few rays like a polished mirror.
The sunrise itself is happening behind the house on our eastern hillside, trees which are still in leaf at the moment mean the rising sun is beyond my sight for now. But the sky streaks with softest blush and ribboned strands flutter out across the heavens. The bright moon bathes in a sky-bath of pink roses.
It’s too beautiful to watch from indoors; I need to be a part of this day unfolding; I need to witness with all my senses. So I stand outside on the balcony and I breathe deeply; invigorated by the cold, sharp air, the tang of frost in my nostrils. I listen to the babblings and murmurings of the water below us. Why are water sounds so amplified in the night, the evenings and the mornings? What makes them so special at these times? The birds are selectively calling, one at a time: the warning cry of a blackbird; the croak of a distant pheasant; the rooks have yet to begin their morning tune-up. The overall sense is of harmonious silence: a world in waiting.
Elsewhere, families will be awake and rushing; commuters will be traveling; roads and rails and businesses will be filling up and starting up. The world will be bustling with the importance of another day. But here it is quiet. And there is no indication of the modern world. I could have stepped back a hundred years.
The windows have had their moment; they revert to faceless glass as the sun rises; the house recedes once more into the landscape. The pink sky-ribbons suffuse into gossamer coverlets. And from nowhere comes the mist. Milky fingers snake down our side of the hill, weaving through trees, threading through the hedges. A plume of smoke rises thick and solid from a chimney in the valley. Vertical smoky plume…. horizontal threading snake… I breathe, the cold forgotten. I watch, and with the world, I wait.
Once in open space, the mist spreads. It wraps around the cows grazing quietly against the far hedge. In the westerly field, it captures the white cattle, huddled together against the shelter of a stand of trees. The cattle become patient ghosts under a pale shiver of haze. Above them the sky blooms pink, and they wait…
Within moments, the mist has gone: it vanished under my watching eyes. No creeping retreat, no curling back; it vanished – melted as quickly as it had come, and the cows perhaps mentally shook themselves and spread out across the grass and into pockets of sunshine.
Long shadows stretch between them: elongated trees lying grotesquely tall across the grass. As these shadows sharpen they also shorten; as they come fully into focus their proportions are restored. And still the sun continues to rise and the green grass loses its silvery frosting and becomes verdant and lush.
Rays begin to finger the very tops of trees: the tallest oaks are thrown centre stage, taking the full applause of the sun and offering me a shimmering symphony of yellow and gold and green.
The burnished flanks of the limousins shine and warm; the pale backs of the Charolais begin to gleam lustrous and opalescent. Once the moon was all radiant silver like these placid cattle, now she hangs spectral and wan. Her moment in the sun has passed; she has handed the refulgent baton to the white flanks of gentle cows.
The rooks wake up and begin their cacophony. Small birds are breakfasting on the balcony. Windows, shadows, cows, clouds… all lose their potency and take their place in the day-time vista. Pinks, greys and sparkling silver were the colours of this dawn as the world awoke; silence was its soundtrack. Now we are bathed in green and gold and blue, and streaky clouds and noises merge into a wholeness that masks individual sounds in favour of a daytime symphony.
I’m wide awake now, and replete. The kettle is calling. And Harri still waits for her breakfast. The day has begun and I welcome it. But what a wondrous secret there is beyond the face it offers me now, and how easy it would have been for these moments to have passed me by.
This evening when I’m once again warm and cosy in bed, I shall ask myself:
What did you do today with your one wild and precious life?
And I shall answer:
Today I watched and waited, while the world woke up.
(i) Adapted from Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day.