My promise was to never miss a sunrise.
February 5, 2014
A VG Serial: The Hills of Eden
I’ve looked at these mornings for a thousand years. It seems that way. Yet each morning seems like the first, the only. I have looked into the dark mists before day breaks and wondered what it would have been like to have been present at the dawn of creation. It must have been a slow process according to all that I’ve read, but it seems to me that there must have been a single morning that was like the ones I witness each morning in these Ozarks hills.
There must have been a day when a man looked into the dark and saw the sun for the first time, rising above the horizon all aflame. It would have been an awesome sight. It is still so, even after so many suns over so many eons of time.
The earth itself seems to fall into a solemn hush just before dawn. The woods go quiet, and the whippoorwills fall silent. There is a change in the air’s rhythm and flow. I stand at the edge of the woods and wait, listening, wondering at the changes, wondering if I am imagining them. But no, even my dog cocks her ear and listens. There is not a sound and I have heard this silence, too, thousands of times.
There is just that one moment, though. It lasts an eternity and it lasts but a split-second. I take a breath to see if I am still alive or maybe just to make a mortal sound. Then, the earth begins to change. It begins to grow as if the hills were sprouting for the first time, as if the trees suddenly rose up out of the soil and grew leaves, as if the grasses, smudged by night, emerged from nothingness.
The sun’s light begins to break over the land, shooting life and color into dead Stygian things, putting shape to gnarled blobs, sculpting the bluffs, carving a bed where a river will flow and then making the river itself appear as if by magic.
The hills take on form and definition and they seem like the first hills ever created, different from the ones I saw at dusk the day before. They are the same, of course. Yet, they are altered, too, by time, by the wind and the weather’s slow beat and by the light streaming from a star only 93 million miles away.
The hills are changed and I am changed.
I change each morning when I stand outside at daybreak, struck with the wonder of this vast universe, the wonder of those things close at hand. The other day my wife looked out the window and saw a young whitetail buck walk onto our road, less than thirty yards from where she sat at her computer. He was joined by a doe and they ambled along the road, flicking their tails, sniffing at the clumps of grass alongside. She watched them as they casually walked into the field of grasses next to the house and headed for the creek a short distance away. She was changed by that moment, brought into the environment even as she sat at her desk.
The other evening, I saw our female cat Coco trotting up that same road, carrying something in her mouth. Behind her trotted our male cat, Boots, following her as if he wanted to share in her kill. I thought Coco had caught a chipmunk or a baby squirrel. But no, she was carrying one of her own kittens. She brought it into the garage and then trotted back into the woods where she had dropped her young. She carried the other one back a few moments later and we set up a nest for her and looked all around the fields and woods to see if there were any more. Coco is but a kitten herself, yet she brought her kits in to shelter where she has been nurturing them for several days.
We were changed by this sight, too, and taken out of ourselves into the world of nature.
Many years ago, I made a vow to myself. I changed my hours to accommodate that silent promise. I have never regretted the commitment: Never miss a sunrise. Never miss a sunset. These are the most beautiful times of day, the quietest. The break of day gives me a feeling like no other, fills me with energy and hope. When the sun sets, I feel a part of all the cycles of seasons and days, of years and centuries. I have been a participant in life, not just a bystander.
I wish I could have seen these hills when they first saw sun. But it doesn’t matter, really. Each morning is like the first morning. When I see the dawn break, the words to that remarkable song by Harry Chapin run through my mind. The sun makes not a sound, yet it strikes deep chords in me and it starts that tune running through my mind.
“Praise for the morning,” the words say. And this morning, like the first morning.
Even if you watch for a thousand years.
Hills of Eden will be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Please click the title, Hills of Eden, to read more about Jory Sherman and his books.