Before sunrise the cold morning air feels taut in anticipation. I sense a primal awareness that this is a sacred time of silence, and only the rushing of waters down distant mountain slopes makes any sound. Sound, but not noise. No living creature makes noise without need. The world is drawing it’s breath.
I don’t know how long I sit there in that moment, but as the purple gloom fades away creatures start to stir, and through the unbroken air the sounds of flying geese come to me. It’s the sound of spring – the rushing of wings and back-and-forth honking that traces its way from one ear to the other as they pass me by. I look down from my hilltop to the water of the loch under a canopy of mist. There I find four dark specks streaking across the creamy brume, far below me.
The birds fly through a sky that is not yet spoiled by light and noise. Not yet, for each day takes it time to stir and shake off the shadow, reluctant to give up the quiet night. But the glow in the northeast sky is the rising of the curtain that must begin the show, and while I await the appearance of the day I sit back among the heathers and blaeberries – who mind their own business – and listen to the flight of geese.
I’ve come to be familiar with moments like this one – and it’s taught me that time does not count itself. Only now matters. Only now is real. I watched the sun set, and now I watch it rise again. Tomorrow never seems to come, yet it’s always here.
Every day is filled with light, and every night by dark; only for a few seconds does everything balance upon the razor edged moment that splits them. The sun that rises cuts as surely as a blade – irrevocably separating the then and now of this morning. But in that moment of separation, when both night and day are still at least partially joined, lies magic and wonder.
As the sun creeps over the horizon the first glows of red caress the tops of mountains and flow down their flanks toward the mists that lie in valleys and between trees. So the curtain does not rise, but rather sinks into the earth, revealing was only imagined by night. Or perhaps the rising of day obscures the mysteries of the dark.
Before long the orb is fully risen, travelling stately along the ecliptic, though it seems from here to be starting a long haul up into the sky. The world is transformed as it climbs and colour is enriched. The vapours – which walk the lines between warm and cold, wet and dry, air and ground – begin to curl and dance while shadows drape themselves through it.
Tthe air comes fully to life with birdsong, for they important business to be about. Territories to be declared, partners sought and songs to be sung. And when better to do it? A Cuckoo is obvious, and Wood Pigeon too. Less so the Black Grouse with its chirruping and clicking, and my ears are keen in the hope that they may detect some far off echo of Capercaillie, but today is not the day it seems.
With the light now strong and growing stronger I am on the move, searching out a place to compose a photograph. In some places the simple geometry of physical features resonates with some internal bell. The seeming disorder of the place – branches, rocks and pools of water all over the place – conspire to form a perfect revelation. And then you see; this is how the world is meant to be.
I’m sure the birds know that, in the same way they know that they are supposed to fly. But we need to be reminded of it once in a while. Reminded that there is only one condition worth searching out – keenly, keenly wanting to be alive this morning and about the business of living.
These mornings have had a more complicated effect on my heart than simple pleasure. For while I’ve gazed in wonder at the beauty of the world I have also lain restless in the dark of night as I struggle with my own irrational fears; yearned for the comforts of a warm bed in a room so silent and still that I can forget that there is a great story unfolding around me and sleep. It’s easier, I think, to sleep that way when you are used to the pretence that you are in control. And this is the greatest lesson that nature has to teach me – to know myself, and where I fit in. It is a lesson you can take as often as you like, but when you feel most reluctant to listen is actually when you need it most.