Sunday, January 6, 2008

Winter Dawn (a narrative)

A few nights ago, I was disturbed about a certain matter and stayed up late, thinking. When my thoughts grew too full to organize mentally, I began to journal. But when I began to nod off not long before 2 AM, I decided to sleep there on the couch, knowing that I would certainly not be able to get up at a decent hour if I slept in my own bed.

Hours before, I had invited Stephen and David to accompany me on my 6 o’clock walk. Now, remembering the promise dimly, I hoped vaguely that they would oversleep.

I was disappointed. It seemed only a few minutes later that I became sensible of a human presence in the kitchen. The moon’s glow still cast shadows among the trees outside: I informed myself curtly that the morning was still a long way off and dug my face deeper into the couch cushion.

Perhaps thirty seconds later, a small hand was placed on the armrest. David’s voice, infinitely softer than I would ever have expected even at this time of day, whispered, “Sarah, is that you?”

I wondered why he hadn’t turned the light on, and how he knew he would find me here.

“Yes, Skip. What’s the matter?”

“It’s 5:55, and Stephen and I are up.”

The aforementioned brother padded down the stairs, switched on the faraway fluorescent light (such consideration!), and joined David. “What is it?”

“It’s Sarah.”

“Oh. Aren’t you getting up, Sarah?”

Disappointing them was unthinkable. Stephen whisked my blanket off, and I surprised myself by getting up pleasantly. After a drink and whispered instructions, I gathered my things and slipped downstairs.

25 minutes later, we were ready. We let ourselves out into the crisp pre-dawn darkness. The moon had slipped behind a cloud, and the world waited silent and unassuming.

Our conversation was muffled as we started down the driveway. The topic was something along the lines of Narnia and Peter’s wolf-killing technique and was demonstrated by the sticks the boys carried. I switched on my Bible tape.

By the time we reached the bottom of the hill, it was considerably easier to see the path. I stopped the boys and informed them of the day-old tradition Jacob and I had established: a race to the creek. Stephen and David concurred enthusiastically.

It was difficult to see the trail while moving at such a fast pace, and the brisk wind I created seemed to numb my cheeks and push them into my face. I managed to win easily, however.

There’s an unspoken hierarchy in the interactions of little boys: the need for a ‘leader’, even a verbally undefined one, is felt acutely. When we reached the power lines, Stephen and David drew back. I led the climb, dodging between stubby undergrowths and among trees and stumps in the semi-darkness.

By the time we were half-way up, the boys were oriented and Stephen had slipped into the leadership position. We crossed over onto the ridge and continued our eastward ascent, this time by a more meadowy route.

I stopped the boys for a moment in the name of another day-old tradition: a glance behind us at a scene that lent itself wholeheartedly to the imagination. The moon, pasty and luminescent, hung quietly in a frozen gray-blue sky. It was just beginning its morning descent: in this case, preparing to sink into an icy gray stack of forgotten timber. Sheathed with still-murky conifers and momentarily stagnant in the womb of dawn, the scene was charged with a healing kind of loneliness. There was no better therapy anywhere in the world.

The boys, failing to appreciate the significance of the scene, trotted off. I switched off my tape and waited for a few more moments to capture what I had casually labeled ‘a Kodak moment’. It seemed more like a rite of passage: the quiet transition from good thing to a better one.

In the east, the lowest sliver of the horizon had been joined by a tenacious streak of cheese-colored dawn. I ran toward it in pursuit of the boys and overtook them chumming good-naturedly on a topic of common interest.

Reaching an old logging path, we headed briskly toward the open pasture. It came upon us more than we came upon it, really: an icy grassland of static beauty, waiting calmly for the future. Not really belonging, we chatted our way into it, icons of a swifter world.

The field narrowed. I mounted a frozen heap of manure and chuckled to myself in the stillness, while the boys meandered to and fro in search of a remembered assortment of skeletal deer remains left over from last year’s hunting season.

I gave them some tips, then positioned myself in the middle of the path to concentrate on my tape. The ground was chilly. I tucked my chin into my jacket and lost myself in the soothing words of a favorite Psalm.

A sudden impulse jerked my attention to the horizon. There, in stunning splendor, stood the most magnificent sunrise I had ever seen. The lower sky was aflame in vivid pink and blonde bands, jagged stripes of lavish intensity. It was magnificent. The day had arrived, a silent testimony to the newness of grace.

I called out to the boys, and they paused in their search to admire the grandness of it all with me. Then their hunt for the stiff frames of mortality resumed in earnest.

It seemed only a second later that the splendor had evaporated in lieu of a flaming arc of sun. Stephen and David joined me on the road and set to work threading a deer skull and rib cage through a length of rope.

Stephen paused for a moment and looked me over as though seeing me for the first time. “Gosh, Sarah, you look good.” He stopped to return my shocked smile with a sheepish grin of his own. “Those colors look really nice on you, and the scenery behind you is really pretty.”

I was charmed. He does surprise me sometimes.

I stood and brushed myself off, though there was nothing but frost below. When the boys had finally arranged the burden to their satisfaction, we continued on toward home.

The cold grassland had given way to the equal serenity of a wooded slope. We continued in a brief upward climb.

Just before the path widened and meandered downhill, the boys stopped to adjust their load and discuss the wisdom of bringing the bones to the house ‘where Mommy can see them’. The original plan had been to adorn their room with the trophies, but somehow that didn’t seem quite safe anymore.

Noticing the time on my cell phone and realizing that breakfast needed to be started immediately, I suggested that we pray together and part ways for the time being. The boys agreed.

I began. Stephen followed by thanking our Father for the ‘wonder of creation’. Where did the child get his vocabulary?

David requested that God ‘please keep our bones safe.’

After a few words of instruction, I left them to discuss the propriety of the various options available for their beloved bones and took off running down the lane. The house waited below me, smoke drifting lazily over a frosty roof. Framed from my field of vision by the melting brown of old leaves, it looked about as welcoming as the hearty pancake breakfast we all sat down to an hour later.