Waiting for day

Thu, 12/15/2011 - 2:16am


here are nights — afternoons these days — the sun does not set easily or without protest. It flames across the sky, gilding the edges of the clouds with a brilliant molten gold. It throws colors, from deep red to pale violet, up into the heavens, fighting the brightest stars that glow white hot in a still blue sky. The ocean is crinkled satin, the water’s edge a fading mirror. White clouds turn dark, old fashioned photograph negatives of reversed light.

Tonight was not such a night. The sun dropped without ceremony, the sky darkened quickly, night fell with a dull thud.

The race to the solstice is slowing, tomorrow will be only a few seconds shorter than today, rather than the two minutes and many seconds it was a month ago. Now I can fret exclusively about the mornings, the sun that rises later and later, a trend it will follow until early January.

The annoying electronic buzz went off and I got up not as early as the darkness would have it seem. Stumbling around downstairs I looked at one clock, then another, and realized that sometime in the night I’d hit the wrong button one times too many and that the time showing on the face of the alarm was an hour off.

It made all the sense in the world to simply go back to bed and to sleep, but the wind had ceased and during my indecision there came a faint light on the horizon. In December an hour before sunrise is not all that early, and that hour was slipping away quickly in the way only of earliest morning in all but those magical months on either side of the summer solstice.

It is the time of year when even those of us who are not such early risers can revel in the beauty of the dawn and see the sun come up over the horizon. So off to the beach I went, thinking how wonderful it will be when I finally get a puppy, at least when the wind is not blowing and the temperature is not well below freezing.

The night had been cold; the earth had that crispness underfoot, soft earth flash frozen. A sound startled me, a hollow rat-a-tat. It was a pebble sent by my shoe to dance over the skim of milky ice formed in layers like a contour map, showing the degrees of shallow of the puddle from which it had formed. The grass was stiff, on the edge of being painted with hoar frost.

The sharp imprint of deer feet marked the roadbed, in many of the same places they do the whole year, but the creatures, themselves, were not visible as they are most every other hour of the day. Other mornings, just an hour later, I see them, many of them, running across the field, half hidden by the tall grass, crossing the roads where that day there were only the sharply cut prints they left behind.

There was light enough when I stepped on the beach that there were faint shadows in the trenches of tire treads running north and south, hope for the sunrise. It was dim enough that the beacon of the great lighthouse on the bluff shown brightly green, waiting for day to subdue it. The beach was empty, truly empty, not a stray surfer off Jerry’s or a walker in the far distance; there were no seals, and only a few birds.

Neither was there any sun, and I began to realize — or to accept what I’d known for a while — that there would be no big red or gold ball peeping over the horizon, then popping above it. There was a wide bank of still dark clouds out to the east and southeast, bringing to mind one of the rare years I managed to get to an Easter sunrise service only to be reminded it was all a matter of faith, the sun was there even if we could not see it.

The clouds were low. In the west the blueing sky was clear, the stars faded to nothing, only the great white disc of a moon hanging, a distraction from the dour east.

I kept walking, hoping, then just wondering, how late the sun really does rise, information rather lost in my careful monitoring of the sunsets. The tide was coming in, lapping up the sandy beach and the sky was lightening, and morning had broken out behind the clouds.

Out to that big rock at the north end of north of Scotch, and back, and dawdling still, waiting for the sun that would show itself once it cleared the cloud bank. Finally, I gave up and turned away, meeting another person at last, coming on to the beach as I was leaving.

Above him, still, the big white disc of a moon was hanging in the ever bluer sky; it would not set for an hour and a half after the sunrise.

The sun finally cleared the clouds when I was coming up my road, listening to the swish of the cold tall grass in the new breeze. In my mind the world is on a grid, everything is perfectly square, streets are straight and parallel. It is nonsense, I know it is nonsense, but still it surprises me when I look back through the dip in the land and see the length of the Front Street. Not just the back of the Surf. That morning, as so often happen, the National Hotel, tall and white, gleamed in the new light, taller and brighter than its neighbors which, for those few minutes of early morning, can only enjoy its reflected glory.

Finally the unhurried second stage sunrise had happened and day felt to be already racing toward its end, as it does only in this deepest dark of December.