I asked for this…this little squeeze of my foot in the velvet dark, through the cobwebs of my sleeping senses, Daddy’s whispered birthday greeting to the head of the bed…”Happy birthday! ...are you coming?” The dark swallows him as if he were never there, but my eyes wince at the faint glow from the opened door. Great Grandma's bed frame creaks to join the subdued tones of my brother’s voices, the hiss and drip of the coffee maker. Here I am, shuffling from my door to the coffee pot to the misshapen pile of hunting attire like a deranged moth stumbling between lights. A nod for good morning, a gulp from my mug between tugs of hat and gloves. Crumbling sweet granola bars that my brain is too sleepy to register as anything other than sand and a determined advance on the door. Here we are stepping over the threshold of light and night…
All at once I am swallowing freshness, gasping on a torrent of wakefulness…that clear limpid nighttime wakefulness. Pianissimo…the night sings with intensity of silence…transparent silence, richly alive. Blackness shrouds the shadows, banks of clouds make drifting wells of dark over a sable sky streaked with watery flits of starlight. Everything wants to be listened to at once in the night symphony so at first you can hear nothing. The night wind aids with a light kiss on my face; a breath of introduction and bold enough, but he is gone as soon as come. Elusive as always but distinguished now in the pattering jangle of leaves and raspy crowding of grass in his wake. Other sounds make introductions; the twig on the branch tapping, and the feathery stretch of the waking bird’s wing, the creaking eyelids of the fox…they are the world turning over in the deepness at the end of sleep.
Truck doors screech and groan, boots thump, latches crash and catch. My ears protest at the first choke of the engine. It moans and roars to life in a crescendo of grinding metal and settles to a familiar hum. More of the night rushes by. The low hills embracing our broad valley fill the horizon blacker than the blackness. East, then South to trundle across the ever-running river in its sleeping banks, then West again. A long humpy driveway without lights to herald our invasion and a plunge into the pianissimo of night songs again with the engine's last churn.
The whispered plans for places to sit and watch are drowned in the deafening stillness. Bows are grasped, bags and pads for seats tossed over shoulders and we walk…treading lightly as boots can over furrows and clods. For the first time I can make out my feet from the ground...somewhere unseen a breach has been made. Something is seeping into the depths of night like the incoming tide and we have unwittingly crossed into the gray hour before dawn. It grazes the tree line as Ben and I press ourselves close to the ground and set our backs to the rigid spines of oak and ash. Daddy and Sam’s boot thumps are swallowed in it on their way to another blind.
One can be said to peer now, instead of stare at nothing; to peer at the wide bay of meadow just before us, a peninsula of trees hanging just at the edge of the darkness in the east and south, a great expanse of the bean field. My ears beg my eyes to close so I will listen again…just listen, and I do, long enough to hear pianissimo and then piano grow. There are birds everywhere…not their songs…just the shuddering staccato of their wings and their good-morning chips. Somewhere behind me the river gurgles and gulps. For the first time I look, wondering that I can, and grey billows roll...thick veils of mist rising from the rich wet ground.
One last time I close my eyes and my hair stands on end at a great rushing sigh. The whole world has held its breath for the gray hour, and having held mine for merely a fraction as long I am yet breathless. I wonder if the world was even more breathless the first time the sun broke out when God spoke it into being and "the morning stars sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy”. From the carpet of grass and twigs at my feet to the clearing sky I turn and while I was listening, the dusky horizon was swept with light, for there it is…the unending silvery moment between night and day. The mist churns and pours over the edge of it, clasps at the trees' raised arms and rolls away to drift in the low vales and hidden draws. Full forte of sound and sky sweeps in; and just as casually as he must every morning a cheeky grey sparrow clips the air with his first warble, daring to break the long tremolo of stillness with his sharp shatteringly high whistle of greeting to the light.
The self-appointed maestro is hereafter out-sung by a thousand treble throats and their echoes. They are singing ecstatically…singing their Spring Song from a thousand perches. Gingerly I shift on my own perch, my back nearly as stiff as the tree behind me. Cheeky and his cousins, fluttering and scolding over our heads, battle for branch-room while I share a rueful smile with Ben. Whatever anyone says, birds in their little nests do not always agree. A sleek field mouse scurries from under a log into the deep grass on a morning errand. My eyelids dip and then roll open again…night-wake is gone and with the new-born morning sleep reaches back to claim me.
There!…that morbid call we are straining for...a tom-turkey’s macabre chortle grates on the breeze and wobbles eerily on the echoes up the ridge. I'm awake now and Ben grates out a raspy hen’s scrawling yelp from his box call. Once, twice, three times. Then Ben's whisper is urgent...his hand, silent accompaniment, draws a line to the southern ridge where a small black shape staggers where the rows of soil meet the wood. Apparently Mr. Tom is on a morning jaunt. Ben’s call is echoed by Sam’s across the meadow, but Mr. Tom is indifferent and disappears into the brush.
Gobbles jangle at the stillness from another direction, and while we answer in counterfeit harmony, a dip in the field before us gets muddled. All at once inquisitive heads break the edge of it and a group of clucking hens with their escort of strutting Jakes skitter to the edge of our meadow and mill about. Its Ben's turn to get breathless now, slate balanced against a log with one hand and gun at ready with the other, he calls and waits. After the old manner of things, the reasons for which are only known completely by the Creator, those great clumsy birds, contrary to every encouraging factor, favorable wind and advantageous location suddenly turn tail and scamper after the heels of the reticent Tom, until they too are staggering shapes at the wood’s edge.
We look up and around from the spell of the hunt and the morning is in full song…dogs bark with or without reason, other engines roar, the river chuckles on behind and the distant highway whistles with morning traffic. Day-break has come…commanded and caused to know its place from time's dawn. As it is promised, it will be so until time ends, and to see it so is a privilege for which we are meant to praise. We cannot answer any more than Job where the light dwells, or the place of darkness, but we know whose infinite wisdom set both in place. So we trudge home grateful, we receive the welcome of Mama grateful, we delve into the breakfast eggs grateful, we go about our work grateful and we remember, again and again, what a wonder it is to be and live and work in our Father’s world.