I confess, I rarely see the morning light... the first morning light. I don't jump out of bed, wild-haired and all carpe diem. I wake up slowly most days and ease my way into the hours already lit. So it was a shock to my system to be up before dawn and dressed and out the door for a photo shoot on Wednesday. And the folks who already live there know this, but I experienced for the first time, in 30 plus years here, just how otherworldly the sunrise can be on Old Ranch Road.
It is quiet there... the cars and the people aren't moving yet. The cows are at a standstill. The birds, however, are starting their morning songs. There is a poem somewhere that whispers, "faith is the bird that sings before dawn." The sky is blue grey morning twilight with just one star left hanging bright in the sky. Or is it Venus, still visible? No matter, it is all dreamlike for me.
Slowly, from behind us, the first rosy rays are hitting the clouds and that other light is pushing the dusky blue away. The mountains in front of us start a time lapse exposure of pale light that creeps up and down the slopes still capped with snow. Then they are quickly awash with a light that seems cinematic -- too intense and vibrational and filled with a promise of a dramatic change.
The redwing blackbirds dip and fly from fence post to tree to marsh and back again. Their songs seem to be carrying the melody line for the rest of the chorus of dawn warblers. A pot gut (prairie dog to the more educated, less regional folks) pops his head up and stands straight up and faces the sun. I am reminded of a piece Utah naturalist Terry Tempest Williams wrote years ago for... was it The New York Times... that the disappearance in the West of the prairie dog would be kinda like the canary in the mines. It makes me smile to see him so busy.
There is water rushing in the irrigation ditches and the tiny creeks out there in the flat lands, under the shadow of the mountains. A convening of sandhill cranes has occurred on an open alfalfa field and they are stretching and preening and basking in the rosy early light. There are six of them, maybe eight, could there be twelve? And they look both beautiful and prehistoric at once. They will be gone soon enough and so I whisper words of gratitude for their annual visit.
Now we turn around and the rays of the first light are shooting out from around the sun behind a cloud. Like a painting, it feels for a moment surreal and staged and you realize this is exactly what painters and photographers have tried to capture since time began. Because, if grace had a face, it would look like this.
There are hawks off to my right and I hear a song snippet in my head from.. was it the musical "Oklahoma"... about hawks making lazy circles in the sky. And I float with them higher and lower and around and higher and reverse and around again. The humans join the activity about now and silently a runner passes us and then a pair of bikers. We nod, but words would seem invasive in this quiet reverie.
The barbed wire fence with the alternating posts of rusted steel and weathered wood wrap around the wetlands and the pasture. It is both landing zone and launch pad for tiny birds whose names I do not know or perhaps have forgotten. They are grey and black and white and more frenetic than the hawks. The light now has hit the mountain top and taken the clouds and made them pink-cotton eye candy and the sun is reflecting off the windows of a hotel and sending out an S.O.S., as the light changes intensity and direction.
It has all taken less than half an hour for this occur. Time was both suspended and crazy accelerated and I am dizzy from the dawn.
The rest of the day includes hunks of aspen trees' "snow" falling into my car and my home and my eyes. The flowers, fine to be ignored for days on end, now need water... attention. The thyme in the back patio has tiny purple flowers almost ready to open and the bleeding hearts who always surprise me with their return have produced tiny pink hearts some time, I swear, overnight. The white apple blossoms and pink cherry pink blossoms are adorning the trees that were bare stick-like all winter.
Spring comes slowly to the mountains and late... soon the calendar will proclaim summer and we will say 'where did the spring go?' And we can point to this week of blossoms and birds and sun before six. It is enough to bask in any spring day, like this very, Sunday in the Park...
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.