The phone rang, strident and screaming in the pre-dawn, at an hour that nothing good ever comes via telephone call.
I tapped Toni the Pillow Puppy, and she moved without even waking up. The caller ID said it was a close friend. Groggy, trying to remember the rest of a dream about wooly mammoths and spears, I grabbed the phone on the third ring.
My buddy didn’t answer; for moment, there was panic, then I heard his cat purring contentedly, and the sound of snoring. I chuckled and hung the phone up.
Miss Rhonda growled at me after I told her it was just a pocketdial, and rolled back over. Her pillow puppy, Walter the Wonder Dog, gave me a disdainful look.
“I’m not getting up at this hour,” she said. “You can if you want to.” Walter concurred, but I was awake. I figured I could catch the extra 45 minutes of sleep with a stolen evening nap.
I could see a single star out the bedroom window, a star that somehow sent its light from a million miles away, a thousand years ago, to make a perfectly aimed shot through the limbs of the oaks and pines in the front yard. I was curious about how often the folks who ate mammoths like the one of which I was dreaming just sat, stared at the sky and wondered.
Toni gave me a stink eye when I slowly crept out of bed, but since she doesn’t allow me to get too far out of her sight, she morosely followed me as I began the morning evolutions. The cats in the living room were nonplussed when I turned on the light, secure enough in their superiority that one of the feeding humans arising early really mattered not a whit in their world.
Coffee in hand, I started to turn on the morning news—the early, early morning news, that is – but instead I stopped, balanced my coffee in one hand and a walking stick in the other, and went to the courtyard. Toni gave me a look that confirmed her previous suspicions that I had finally lost my mind, but she followed along anyway.
Doodle and his brood were already awake, and he broke the morning with the offkey crow that gave him his name. Betty, Boop and Bedelia weren’t impressed. The geese were asleep, except for Big Mac, who was on guard. The muscovy ducks never seem to sleep, and they were busy doing their morning things, far too busy to be bothered with a human who didn’t bear a feed bucket. Red, Melanie and Taliana stood sleepily in the feeding area of the pasture, awaiting their daily grain, breathing soft mist in the last of the moonlight.
Toni settled at my feet as I shifted the rocking chair to watch the sun rise. Sunrise is a slow process when you’re deep in the piney woods, but when the angle is just right the first real beams roar down June’s trail toward the house, bathing the front yard in a slow spread of warm yellow-red light that can’t be reproduced in paint or on a computer program.
Holding the steaming cup of sustenance, I thought of other sunrises – with my father on the way to start the day at the newspaper; later, walking sleepily into the restaurant for breakfast and badly-needed coffee after working together through Election Night, and people not wanting to wait the two hours before the paper came out to find out who had won or lost.
Mornings on the banks of a river somewhere, the remains of a driftwood fire that could have been visible from space, now just a pile of embers still smoking and heating the whole river valley; a Sunday morning when we rolled from beneath rubber sheets and wet wool blankets to eat mustard greens simmered all night on a campfire and watch the sun paint Monticello. Deer stands and traplines, the blow of a buck who was faster than the hunter, the snarl and popping teeth of a coyote who’s met the end of the line. Shadows of ducks darker against a swamp’s wooded sentries, a dog shivering beside you from cold and anticipation. The methodical buzz-plop-jerk-jerk-reel as a topwater lure hits the water in hopes of showing a greedy bass the error of his ways. The smell of breadloaves being baked by the hundreds, that smell wafting down an alley toward the water where my buddy and I wondered what we were going to do in a big city a long way from home with maybe five bucks between us and nowhere to go.
I spent a few minutes with God, my dog and those memories the other morning, and it set a better tone for the whole day. I’m convinced there’s something cleansing in watching a sunrise –after all, weren’t the women at the tomb watching for the sun to rise so they could go care for the body of Christ, only to find instead that He had risen as He had promised? Doesn’t His word promise that though the sorrows may last for a night, the joy comes in the morning?
The same evening, an animal emergency had us scrambling up and down the lane and through the woods as the sun gave as good of a farewell performance as it had an opening number. When the emergency was handled — thankfully, it turned out to be much ado about nothing – I had to lean for a moment on my ever-present tulip poplar companion and rest.
The sun was streaming through the trees and down the railroad bed this time, much as it has since 1849 or thereabouts when the railroad was laid. The white oaks, cypress, pines, gum and poplar along the railbed and the lane by our house are more disciplined than the more forgiving oaks and pines in the yard, so Old Sol had a time beating his way through to light up the gloaming in a last ditch attempt to stave off the night.
Venus shrugged off her dressing gown of daylight and began dancing across the evening sky, going backward against the other stars and planets, a rebel in her own right. A single star shone through the trees, in an evening blue-black sky still bordered with yellow-orange, and I wondered if it was the same one I’d seen in the morning.
Somewhere out there an owl questioned life’s meaning, and a fox barked. William the hound bayed in his exuberance. Toni sneezed – at least if I was going to do something foolish, I had picked a more reasonable time of day this time. William and Toni both dropped their noses to the ground as we walked back to the house, not unlike the days when Dudley, Dixie and I would make our way home from across the highway, maybe with a gamebag or bucket full of supper, maybe with nothing more than an nice day’s walk and a craving for whatever smelled so good through Miss Lois’ kitchen windows.
Melanie brayed to remind us that she hadn’t had supper yet, and all three equines were on the verge of starvation. It was same bray she gave of an evening when we had the farm in Kelly, except there we had no filter for the sunset until it dipped beyond the river in a farewell salute.
The light along the lane wasn’t unlike the sunsets when I made my way back from my favorite old pine tree on another farm, a tree with a base made soft with a hundred-plus year of peat, surrounded by bushes that were just enough to camouflage a hunter awaiting whatever might come to a poorly-cut cornfield as the sun gave up and the coyotes began to sing.
As we finally drifted off to sleep that night, I strained to see out the window and find the single star I’d seen earlier. I couldn’t find it at midnight, however; I think it was one of those that only appears during the magic hours, when the light is perfect and the memories come back to life.