Well Before Dawn

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I am drawn toward the early morning hours of dawn, when I feel ahead of the world, and I can sense some small whisper of…what….hope, I suppose, or wonder maybe. To hear life around the river in those moments motivates me, awakens in me possibilities which otherwise lie dormant. Before the sun rises, often just after the first sliver of light reaches up across the bay, I can hear osprey and other sea birds who at that hour never seem to mind my presence.

But earlier, when that glimmer on the eastern horizon is still merely a possibility, I have taken to walks by moonlight, sometimes not even that. In the woods where I live and down along the water, something is going on. There is life out there wide awake and moving through the dark hours like spirits who need to finish their errands before the sun gives them up. Like sneaking up on some grand behind-the-scenes operation, or suddenly discovering the dark web and meddling around a bit, those hours when the rest of our lives are at rest, motionless, recharging, the world around us is in full swing on the midnight shift.

Generally, this happens for me just before the wild life around me packs it in for the night; just before I watch the horizon for illumination.

Fox come about the edges of the woods looking for scraps of food or the peels and rinds of bananas and melons. I can stand patiently off the side of the drive and one fox will wander across the yard from the woods behind me to those on the south and stop before disappearing again beyond the laurel, and he will stare at me, relaxed, nosing around the base of a tree I occasionally put food. Then he’s off—not swiftly or in fear, but nonchalantly, demonstrating that he lives here as well and has decided to stretch his legs. That’s all.

Owls, too—some barn but mostly screech owls, perch in the oaks and elms, sometimes swooping down and moving through branches with precision. But my favorite are the geese which cover the night sky in flocks sometimes so enormous the swoosh of their wings alone creates a breeze, and their call to “Go! Go! Go!” is startling.

Closer to home, out front near the edge of the trees, deer nearly always feed on the dew-soaked grass and often the hostas, and if they sense me sitting on the porch or standing in the clearing, they will look up, briefly, ears turned forward—just for a moment—and then return to their grass, not minding me, aware just the same.

And it is then, when I am well acclimated with the night and my eyes have adjusted, and my soul too has adjusted, that I think of my way in the world, the motivation behind the turns and hesitations, my purpose of this passing in time. Oh, do I ever have an internal monologue underway with others gathered in my nocturnal imagination! There’s one friend nodding his head and insisting I follow my own path. I can hear him clearly when I’m out there, see his small sardonic smile as he says, “Come on Kunzinger. You know how to do this, stop waiting for approval or it’s never going to happen.” And there, too, is another friend whose smile is as wide as dawn pressing his sense of adventure into my spirit with an “all or nothing” carelessness about him which brings me up short yet livens my ambition. In one brief moment I am eased by no longer thinking of them in the past tense, but just as quickly, we all move on.

And sometimes sitting there on one of the benches is another friend, subconsciously rubbing her neck and looking at me with wide brown eyes saying, “Someday I will,” and then laughing and repeating, “Honest, someday I will,” and it makes me sad, deeply sad like liquid, but that moment too passes.

And then the distance across the reach lightens ever so slightly, from dark, almost Navy blue to something slightly more pale, like powder, and I’m alone again—the fox rushing off into the woods, the geese at rest in the harvested field or at the river’s edge, and the murmurs of chickadees and wrens and cardinals chase away what’s left of the stillness, and even my friends bow off, and I have trouble separating memory from imagination. So I go inside and wake my son so we can head to the bay to catch the sunrise.

It’s as if time lets me manipulate her however I wish just by heading outside at just the right moment; as if time has been neglected, ignored, or taken for granted, but for some of us who stay up late or get up early to gather as much out of our moments that we can, it offers a small reward, and I can bend her ever so slightly. Then, just briefly, it eases the almost vague pain in my soul which gathers around loss, which surrounds emptiness, and which almost always seems to visit during those late-night hours.

But predictably and somehow simultaneously surprisingly, dawn returns with that hope I need and says, “Wait, watch. Just watch.”

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