After a week-long vacation to the Outer Banks of the North Carolina coastline, the proper appreciation of this forest sunrise requires not only an ocular adjustment but a mental one as well. The image of the Albemarle Sound reflecting and softly dispersing the first light of early August dawn was somewhat burned or etched into my retinas, and now as I look into the pre-dawn darkness behind my own house in the Richmond forest, that lavender-pink eye tattoo persists. What a light show it was!
Water and sky mirrored one another as the grey outer fringe of dawn disturbed the earth’s nightly glance into universal darkness. Each morning I woke early, poured myself a cup of mud, and gazed eastward across the shallow water of the sound or the broad expanse of the Atlantic. And each morning, in advance of its full, undistorted shine, the sun’s groping grey fingers revealed more similarity than contrast between the thick fluid below and the lighter fluid of air above. Sky was grey. Water was grey. All was grey.
But for an understanding of how closely grey relates to lavender, to pink, to orange and to rose, the edge of Atlantic at sunrise is the place to be. By some mystery of refraction, perhaps, there is a point just before dawn when the atmosphere seems to slowly pulse color, and with each pulse grey gives itself over to those warmer, more motherly shades. Long before that great ball of energy looks over the edge of our sphere and directly into my eyes, I have a pretty good idea what Its intentions are. It plans to warm this place up, and to color it, too. It plans to color a contrast between the water below and the air above. Just before It looks directly over with a squint-inducing brightness, I see and feel Its warm pulse in the atmosphere and on the surface of water. It is the Sun! Burning, creative alternative to darkness! Bright, beautiful giver of life!
It’s darker just before dawn here in the Richmond forest. Beneath the chair my bare feet mate firmly with solid earth rather than digging and sifting through the powdery remnants of crushed-up mountains. An eastward glance into the woods registers a meager distinction between earth and heaven, evidenced by the dark solemnity of the former, a hint of motion or fluidity in the later, and some texture or fuzziness in the transition zone between. With increasing light I discern clouds floating west to east over the tall stalks of loblolly pine trees. Gradually, out of the darkness below, an animated work of art emerges. A creation. Each species of animal and tree is painted by sunlight not only in unique color, but in unique texture, shape, and finish as well. Each element of the emerging creation is a different idea, a different brushstroke. Each makes unique motions, and produces unique sounds.
My eyes and mind continue to adjust, until finally I decide that this forest sunrise is every bit as grand as that watery one I experienced over the last seven days. The Atlantic Ocean or Albermarle Sound sunrise tends to glorify the Sun itself and the surrounding sky, and my attention becomes focused on the magnitude and intensity of light, its soft, warm-colored effect on the heavens, and its quivering reflection on the surface of water. A quite beautiful, but also a quite solitary sunrise. Other than passing gulls, who seem to hear and deride my self-indulgent thoughts with their long, sarcastic laughs, the bulk of any nearby wildlife passes unnoticed beneath the blue, watery veil. At places where these great bodies of water lick their outer boundaries, the primary features of a new day are the Sun, its light, and the methodical white noise of water meeting earth.
Here in the woods that retina tattoo is not so much removed as it is colored over. This forest sunrise glorifies the wondrous living things that are eager this and every morning to greet the Great Provider. Purple-robed columns of loblolly pine spire 110 feet into the sky, where their upper needles are the first of the forest greenery to blush pink under the sun’s direct gaze. Lower in the canopy the leaves of many different Virginia natives each respond to the sun and morning air with their own unique luster and flutter. Waves of moving air create the same swishing and whispering in forest trees as water waves create at the beach. Birds greet the morning with a diversity of song, cicadas with choral squeals of waxing and waning intensity, and a mourning dove tries to steal the heart of a lover with the depth of his wooing lament. Chasing squirrels turn the cylindrical pine trunks into grey-spiraled barber poles as they test each other’s fitness and agility, routinely making death defying leaps from tree to tree.
The more it glows bright green with sunlight, the busier the forest becomes. The get-to-work bell rings in an infinitude of tiny photosynthesis factories as the trees and shrubs begin to pile up and store the sun’s offerings again after a night of repose. There are many characters, and much drama amongst them. The star of this forest sunrise is not the earths own great star, but the immense array of living things it shines upon. I watch this Richmond sunrise not in solitude, but in congregation with a multitude of earth’s living things. Like them, I try to absorb, enjoy, and grow in the morning shine.
And from my small pew in the forest, each morning at sunrise, I have this wonderful chance to relive the creation story – the genesis of the book of Genesis. Oh, sure, there are other versions than that story, and even many different interpretations of that story. There are different ideas about who the Creator is, and what It wants from me. Even so, I accept certain elements of the story as self-evident. After a long, dark night, and out of the chaos of darkness, the first thing the Creator says is “Let there be light!” From the darkness earth is separated from sky, and on earth there emerges a green, fruitful garden. Living, toiling, and loving in the garden paradise unconsciously are birds and animals. Sitting and thinking in the garden is me, partially separated from that paradise by self-consciousness (ate a bad apple?), and forever reaching and trying to understand my relationship to the Great Light of the Creator.
Every day. Any day. During any given sunrise, the natural and written history of life on earth begins and continues.