On Sunday morning, I woke up early, around five o’clock. This is rare; the lake is where I’ve gotten some of the best sleep I’ve ever had, and coming from someone who typically only sleeps through the night once every three or four days, that’s saying something. The air is so clear and the night’s darkness so thorough and its silence so complete that sleep is an inevitability when properly tired. I love a good lake sleep. But when sleep doesn’t come, I’m not so unwise as to try to conjure her up from nothing like some sort of Faustian creature. I simply picked myself up and went to go sit outside. Outside is where you go at the lake.
A person who idolizes sunrise and sunset is a sensationalist
Some people will argue that sunrise is the best time of morning to be outside and to take in all that morning has to offer, but I will disagree. A person who idolizes sunrise and sunset is a sensationalist; they are probably the same person whose Instagram account is filled with images of rising suns around the world, in an attempt to convince you that beauty only associates with full color and pastels and neons. I don’t begrudge this person their joy, or the attractiveness of the sun in general, but I do question its supremacy in the market of beauty. The person who insists upon sunrise is likely getting dressed and combing their hair during the real artist’s moments during the stillness and darkness just before sunrise.
I walked to the absolute center of the bridge, the center being somehow spiritually significant
I’ve always been a devotee, if not a strict observer, of experiencing the world during the dim hour before sunrise. When I lived in Boston, and was much younger and slightly more adventurous, I would make a predawn pilgrimage to the Mass. Ave. Bridge between Back Bay and MIT as often as I could, which turned out to be once every six to twelve months. The preparation for this holy journey began the night before. I didn’t drink, as it was important to have as much of my wits about me as possible. I also didn’t sleep, perhaps in fear that I would sleep through an absurdly early alarm, but more to experience dawn as an end to night, rather than a beginning to day. I would leave my apartment around 3:45 to stop get a cup of coffee. Sometimes I would bring a cigar. I walked to the absolute center of the bridge, the center being somehow spiritually significant, and would sit on the guardrail facing the golden dome of the State House, which happened to be east. As the sky over downtown Boston slowly lit up, my fatigue would reach a crescendo, and I could do nothing but sit, sip coffee and puff on a cigar, watching the sky and my favorite city do a dance that no other person in Boston could experience quite like I did. I would have to dig through my old journals to recount what it looked like; it was a scene that could only be retold from recent memory. Then, I would get up and leave as soon as I saw the sun itself. Since those younger days, and perhaps tracing even further back into my childhood, I’ve always felt at home in those dim moments before the world wakes up.
The early morning hours at the lake begin even earlier than they do in Boston. This particular morning, the moon was bright in the sky: waning gibbous, three days before third quarter, in the southwest over the lake itself. The sky had a deep blue color that was also impossibly bright. It was as if I was staring into an ocean being lit from deep beneath. Added to this were the sounds of hundreds of birds. At first, there were only one or two or ten, but as morning went on, more birds woke up and joined their brothers. There was no wind, so the birds’ singing and the sound of gurgling water provided all of the music for the scene.
You can tell how close to sunrise it is by the cacophony of birdsong. It has a pattern, almost as if they are all reading from the same sheet music. They begin quietly, as everything begins quietly at the lake, and they slowly crescendo as the sky becomes brighter. Then, moments before sunrise, it is as though all of the larger, deeper-throated birds agree to stop, allowing only the meekest and shrillest birds, tiny ones, I imagine, to continue singing. This pause in the song of the birds heralds the sun’s coming. Once the sun rises, the rest of the bird world will join back in for the enormous finale, but only for a few minutes before relaxing into the day.
At any other time of day, she dutifully reflects whatever joyful colors and patterns given to her from above
The hour before dawn is the only time that Lake Nancy is ambivalent about the sky. At any other time of day, she dutifully reflects whatever joyful colors and patterns given to her from above, but during pre-dawn, she busies herself with those things that are only the purview of water — there are wisps of fog to collect at the southern banks, water bugs skating to and fro across the surface of the water, splashes from the unseen denizens of the the deep, probably at the expense of the water bugs, and the constant and ever-present sound of runoff streams adding themselves to the lake herself.
As all this was happening, the sky became not only lighter in color but slowly broke off into the lighter versions of those pastels and neons that the rest of the photographic world was, I’m sure, stumbling over itself to capture. The deep blue of twenty minutes before gave way to a much lighter blue, as clouds began distinguishing themselves as gray and white. The only oranges, reds, and purples concentrated on the eastern horizon, collecting themselves around the sun that would soon announce the day, while breaking the real magic and serenity of a quiet world between darkness and light, between dreaming and planning.
And as the sun broke through the horizon, I packed up my things and took my leave. I’m happy to have ten million social media acolytes of the sun’s exuberance arrive to take pictures and come up with different ways to describe color and light. But I can walk away, as I’ve always done, knowing that I was present for the moments that few people care to embrace, but that I’ve always held onto and cherished.