There is a thing that happens before the sunrise, where the sky is dark and still in the east with the occasional winking star, and then something seems to shift, quietly. If you blink and look again it will be gone, but if you wait long enough and relax your gaze, it reappears, the faintest outline in the darkness, the trees against the horizon. And then the sky starts to turn a soft grey, ever so slightly lighter than it was before, and suddenly the trees burst out against it and you wonder why you didn’t see them before, a minute ago. The stars still hover above their branches and thin threads of light start to reach out and the sun crawls up to sit low in the sky, which flushes with colour like it has something to be embarrassed about.
It’s dark so late in the morning now that it feels like the middle of the night when it’s really not, and sometimes it seems like the trees and I are together in a confessional somewhere, waiting for someone to slide open the door and peer through the grate at us. We’re sitting nervously on the bench, wondering what we will say when we open our mouths, and we are surprised by what tumbles out when we are invited to speak, to name our sins, to put paid to fear and say the things we cannot say in the open.
The trees speak, groaning in the wind, branches waving inarticulately. Their leaves drip water and they nod at the saturated soil below them, to which they know they must eventually return, but for now they stand straight and avoid each other’s gazes. They hum with nervousness and shed needles in a faint patter and shoot out new growth with an air of defiance.
Trees don’t lose their leaves here, for the most part, which means that they are defiantly fuzzy around the edges in that early morning light, when they are more shadows and ghosts than real things, hovering between imagination and reality. The rich greens in their layered branches blend with each other in a burst of colour that emerges kind of like the outlines of the trees themselves. At first they appear uniformly dark and grey, and then suddenly they are green, and you wonder how it is that you didn’t notice that, the green, when you were looking before, a minute ago.
Watching the sun rise at any time of the year is a quietly shared experience between you and the sun, playing chicken with each other to see who will look away first. In the winter, it’s easy to catch the sun even if you don’t get up particularly early, because it is dark for so long. In the summer, it’s more of an art form, to be aware early enough to see that shift in the sky and watch the trees suddenly jump out from the darkness. In the winter, it is easier to see how you might fall into that darkness, be wrapped up in it and never able to surface again.
We fear the dark instead of embracing it because we fear the unknown instead of confronting it. There is a moment in the darkness of early morning where I wonder if things will be where I left them yesterday, or if the trees have quietly crept about and changed positions when they thought no one could see them. Sometimes I wonder if there is nothing there at all, just a blank stage with everyone tittering in the wings, waiting for their cue. I am reminded of the symphony scene in The Phantom Tollbooth, where sunrise is unpredictable because it is not fated, only orchestrated, in defiance of all known physics and experiences.
Days are short and time is short and perhaps this is what the solstice is telling me this year, that out of the shortness comes light, eventually, if you look for it and are patient. That the shortness will eventually give way because all things do, in the end, the darkness must surrender to the sun and the light will spiral through the darkness and the colours will burst into being because this is what must happen, what will continue to happen, what should happen. No orchestra needs to coax the sun over the horizon and no one will step forward to force things to pass for you, because they will pass anyway, if you are patient, if you relax your gaze, if you let them emerge quietly from the darkness.
Short is not just a matter of length but also of temper, of impatience, of lack of focus, and this shortness is the thing that drives us to scream at the light to hurry up, to push back against the darkness, to demand that things move along more quickly to satisfy our desire to be out of the darkness, to escape from the dark wood wandering. It is so hard to relax into the darkness and the unknown, to resist the temptation to flick on a light to drive the fear away, to let the sun come up on its own without exhortation or pleading. But when you do, when you sit quietly, you see the flush of fire on the horizon, the blaze of colours moving so quickly and uncertainly that if you blink you will miss it, you see the order of things reordering itself, as it does every day, as it will continue to do, even when it seems that everything is falling apart.
Because the centre cannot hold, but eventually it comes back together again in new form.