The breeze at dawn has secrets

The breeze at dawn has secrets December 22, 2013

I love Yule vigils, because they are kind of like a slumber party for grownups.  I live in the kind of place where I could walk over to someone else’s Solstice  event before mine really got going (she also showed up at our house after hers wound down).  People appeared in waves, so it wasn’t one party but a series of them; some raucous, some quiet and full of contemplation, some full of witty banter.  There was food, dancing, poetry, sushi, and singing.  Loud singing; some neighbors who showed up around 3 am said they could hear us up the street.  It is notable that they did not come over to complain, but to join the party…

After everyone else left or fell asleep, I decided to walk around the lake.  In that pre-dawn hour, the lake seemed both wilder than usual and less remote from the city. Perhaps it was the rush of Snapfinger Creek or the whisper of wind in the trees which also made a shimmer on the otherwise smooth dark surface of the water, but it had a presence and power that reminded me of camping on Hunting Island, South Carolina among the pines and palmettos near the beach, or else on the banks of some wild river in Appalachia.  Ducks complained to one another in the early morning shadows, and I startled something along the path (KER-SPLOOSH!) which also startled me.  And yet, I could hear the trucks rumbling along the Interstate, a sound that normally doesn’t reach this far, and the question of the approach of dawn was obscured by the reddish skyglow of Atlanta against the clouds.  It was unseasonably warm, even for Georgia; it’s not so unusual for it to be 65 F  in December during the day, but generally not that balmy at 5 am.  Besides traffic I could hear crickets, someone’s wind chimes, and somewhere in the distance, a rooster crowing.  I was filled with peaceful solitude.  I considered sitting on a bench to observe the lake and wait for dawn, but it began to rain, so I went  home.  It turned out my son was not asleep, just lurking in his room as teenagers do; he joined me on the screened porch to watch the sky slowly lighten behind the vertical black wickerwork of tree branches and the lake grow brighter in shining echo.

There’s a kind of subtle radiance in observances of this kind, less intense than the energy of a more focused and ceremonious ritual, but also somehow larger, less dependent on the individual, more a matter of showing up.  To wait throughout the long dark hours, laughing with friends among lit candles or walking thoughtfully alone in gray morning twilight, rewarded finally by a slow illumination of the world, is to witness the miraculous in the ordinary.  The sun comes up, after all, every day. If it didn’t, if it somehow failed, none of us would be here. We just don’t normally pay that much attention. Nor should we, necessarily; if we kept vigil for the sun every night, we’d get nothing else done, and the precious time we have of being alive would be spent only in contemplation of itself…a kind of ideal, perhaps, but an unsustainable one, too rich to wear every day.  To make that sustained observation once a year in company or solitude, to celebrate in this way the great forces which sustain our lives and all life, to stop and notice that they exist and because they are, we are also; to salute the sun as it rises with some words of poetry or gratitude, and then meander groggily to bed….It is just enough, I think, to keep us turning.  We don’t keep vigil to make sure the sun is alive, but to understand our own aliveness. The light we wait for shows the world and ourselves, exactly as they are.


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