Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Winter Sunrise


I like to rise early, but usually not early enough to catch the sunrise.  Erik, on the other hand, relishes these anticipatory moments just before the sun comes up and the beauty of each day's new beginning.  When we visit my parents' house in Eastern Washington, he is usually up early every morning, anxious to explore the natural habitats of the desert and the light and wildlife that are so a part of these early hours.

And just as much as it is a tradition for Erik to head out in the wee morning hours with the camera bag in tow and a wool cap on his head, it is a tradition for us to sit around my parents' kitchen table afterward, looking through his photos and often enjoying the warm smells of a holiday meal in the works.


These are photos that Erik took Christmas Eve morning at McNary Wildlife Refuge.  The soft palette of sunrise colors and the gray frosty glow of the plants make them some of my favorites of his vast repertoire of early morning shots. In searching for a little quote or poem to go along with them, I came across a short essay called "A Winter Sunrise" by the American archaeologist and naturalist, Charles C. Abbott, published in an 1889 edition of The Friend.  The description of Mr. Abbott's sunrise excursion seemed so fitting to be paired with these photographs.  Admittedly, I have a fondness for the writings of Victorian-era naturalists, especially those that are neither too florid or too technical, but simply capture their simple, joyful observations of the natural world.

So here are a few paragraphs from "A Winter Sunrise."  If your morning doesn't allow for such a verbose blog post, I hope you will enjoy the pictures just the same.  Here's to the beauty of a sunny winter morning (and a warm place to retreat once you're done exploring it!).

The waning moon was scarcely visible in the western sky and not a star shone overhead when I ventured out of doors, at the call of the gathering crows. These noisy scavengers of the river's shore had evidently slept with one eye open, and at the first faint glimmering of the dawn signaled, in no uncertain tones, the coming day. Across the brown meadows floated their clamorous cries and roused me when my own slumber was most profound; but I responded promptly, willing at least, if not wildly anxious, to witness a winter sunrise.

I have said the meadows were brown; such was their color when I saw them last; but now, every wrinkled blade of last year's grass was daintily feathered with pearly frost. A line, too, of steel-gray crystals topped every rail of the old worm fence, and capped the outreaching branches of the scattered trees. The glint of splintered glass filled the landscape.

Knowing the view would there be least obstructed, I walked leisurely to a high knoll in the lower meadows, leaving a curiously dark streak behind me where I brushed away the frost as I passed. Not a bird greeted me. The sparrows and chickadees of yesterday were still asleep. The crackling of brittle twigs beneath my feet was the only sound I heard, save, of course, the blended voices of the distant crows. 

The brightening of the eastern sky proceeded slowly. Cloud above cloud threatened to shut out the light until the day had well advanced; while from the river rose a filmy bank of smoke-like fog that settled in huge masses over the intervening marshes. But still the crows were clamorous, and I had been told that their songs at sunrise augured a fair day; so, 'twixt hope and fear, I reached the high knoll in my neighbor's meadow. 

It was at the nick of time. Without a heralding ray in the whole horizon, a flood of rosy light leaped through a rift in the clouds and every cold gray crystal of the frost glowed with ruddy warmth. Then deafening loud was the din of the foraging crows, as though they exulted at the fulfillment of their prediction; and from that moment on, the day was beautiful.


When, in the forbidding gloom of a winter dawn, I ventured out of doors, it was with the anticipation of a cheerless walk, if not fear of actual discomfort; but the brilliant sunrise promptly dispelled all this; my fears giving way to hopes that were more than realized.