Teri Orr: Singing before dawn
Sunday in the Park
Park Record columnist
Most mornings this time of year I wake the same way: Before the sun gets up. I leave my windows and little deck door open at night (there are screens) and sleep with the night air blowing and nocturnal creature sounds lulling me to sleep.
I have deep dreams on these nights, and in the early morning hours, I hear a chorus of song. Not all at once, first one note, then another and then together other notes, other voices, as the birds begin their predawn songs. I thought I remembered a quote about this and tried to research it the way I remembered it: “Faith is the bird that sings before dawn.”
I was quite certain that was the quote. So I did that search and spent entirely too much time learning about a kinda mystic guy from the 1800s in India who is credited with the phrase, “Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.”
And even after reading it in print it felt wrong. I think it might have been the refrain in a gospel song or maybe a Leonard Cohen one. Or perhaps a sentence in Anne Lamott’s book “Bird by Bird,” but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I am certain I did not make it up.
Before there is a hint of dawn hitting my tiny upstairs deck, birds are singing most mornings. And it does strike me as a curious phenomenon before they know with empirical evidence the sun is coming up in the west again. They either have some kind of faith or radar it will happen, worthy of song.
Last Sunday, I woke up in a lovely slow way listening to birds join in a song of their predawn making and then drifting back into delicious sleep filled with dreams, which had been me waking with a kind of muddled mystery and a touch of longing.
I put on the tea and grabbed The Times and added some toast to the perfect equation as I headed out to the front porch where the sun hits. It’s a magical hour to enjoy all those indulgences just so. I was just starting the Sunday Review section where, yes, there were political columns but also thoughtful observations about love and family. I passed over the political ones. The news reads these days like a garish painted clown car with an impossible number of clowns that keep emerging to mingle with the carnies among the rides that fill you with equal measures of fear and delight.
I was deep into a piece about love in the time of the internet when an friend rolled her bike on my lawn and grabbed the other wicker chair and started into a conversation that had been left dangling months ago.
For almost an hour, though unexpected, we caught up on family and work and things that were broken in our little town. And then she grabbed her bike and rode off into the near noonday sun.
So I planted some of my hanging baskets with herbs and flowers and tiny plants to create little songs of both color and smell that will call to me all summer long — assuming I remember to water them.
But by late afternoon, the winds were blowing and the sky had darkened and my outdoor time was cut short. Next morning it had snowed. I woke up shivering in my room because the windows and door had been left open; the heat had been turned off weeks ago and the heavy winter covers had been folded and shelved. I don’t remember hearing any birds or even sensing the dawn.
And though the stormy weather was a full day and the next morning again, by Tuesday afternoon — when I drove home from work — the weather was mild enough. On the corner where I turn off the main road, there were two sweater-clad kids selling lemonade. I have a personal rule to stop at any and all of such stands all summer long. Sure, my 50 cents is fun for them to have, but their joy at selling the stuff is the real treat. Sometimes there is a conversation about what they plan to do with the money and sometimes there are apologies for running out of ice and sometimes there is recognition and perhaps a bit of joy — mostly from me.
In most early evenings back on a different, slightly tucked away side deck, there is the fading of the day. I hear doves and I swear sometimes owls, cooing and who-ing and I am wary when I hear the owl. I am familiar with the native traditions of an owl announcing death and for years the sound of the owl would fill me with dreaded anticipation. But as a Navajo medicine man carefully explained to me, “deaths come to ideas and ways of life and systems, not just people…”
After nine, the sunset has ended but the rose-color wisps, not wholly clouds, remain. I love the sky you declare to yourself is fake when you see it in some painting…until you remember just where that exact sky color was: one night in your life.
The grass is so green right now and barefoot lush. My creeping thyme has flowered and the bees are crazy on the job this year and welcome back after a two-year hiatus. There was honey again this week at the farmstead on Old Ranch Road where Daisy and crew offer fresh produce and beautiful bouquets of wildflowers.
There are weeks when Sunday feels the very end of the week, mostly when I am working very late on a Saturday night. The next day doesn’t feel like the start of anything except exhaustion.
But in the summer, Sundays feel like the start of something. A promise. A restart button with hope attached. And this week that can be just enough to be grateful for a summer Sunday in in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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Teri Orr will miss her neighbor, a man whose “influence on this city — from the ’80s until this fall — is nearly impossible to measure.”