Monday, 15 August 2016

Cascades of Earliness

4.45am isn’t a time I’m used to. I’m more of a late starting girl, given half a chance: the kind who loves to laze in bed until mid-morning, reading and snoozing and listening to music (and, if I’m honest, spending slightly too long staring at my phone). But today I am up before the birds, shaking away sleep as I pull on tights, a polo-neck, dress, boots, shearling jacket. By 5.04am I’m in the car with my dad, clutching a flask of tea. We drive out of the village towards the mist. It’s thick, turning trees and hedges into flat silhouettes. Our car slips through the grey. Shortly after, the sky’s edges curl pink.

By 5.30am we’re standing at the top of the hill: a vast hill, looking down over valley upon valley of towns and fields. As the minutes go by, the heather stretching in every direction is illuminated – as is everything else, lines and details soaked clear with daylight. We witness the shift from shadows to green, mauve, blue, tangerine. The tangerine belongs to the clouds. They score the view ahead: great big scratches of light and colour. My dad fusses with his cameras (plural - our reason for being here). I sit on an anorak among the heather, watching. Soon I’m trying to note down everything I can see and hear, scribbling bullet points, only some of which make sense:  

  • ·      Traffic growl only sign of life
  • ·      crows – harsh notes
  • ·      hills holding their breath
  • ·      sheep bleating
  • ·      stillness up here - motion below

But none of it can properly capture the grandeur of it; the elation of watching a landscape wake up, lit by that huge, neon circle swimming up from the horizon; the sense of standing at the edge of a world that is only half-yours, that still, somehow, belongs more to the birds and the insects in the grass and the last gasp of night.

Then there’s the knowledge that this process happens all the time (though, of course, not always as marvelously as this) – a regular spectacle most of us don’t witness. Virginia Woolf writes beautifully in ‘On Being Ill’ about spending time staring at the sky, noting wryly, “one should not let this gigantic cinema play perpetually to an empty house”. But she also knows that the sights up above have “nothing to do with human pleasure or human profit”. They happen because they must. Our joy at these scenes is incidental.

This dawn rising is the culmination of a long weekend spent throwing myself back into the green, reveling in all this gorgeous expanse. I’ve said goodbye to Oxford, and, sad as it is, there’s something galvanizing in the temporary change of scene. There are books to read, slopes to climb, water to seek out, long walks to complete, muscles to tire out, projects to pursue. I’m craving activity and motion. But, at the crown of the hill, there’s just this: a dawn so impossibly beautiful, and so impossibly everyday.  

When we leave, the sunshine is bright, but there’s an autumnal bite in the air. In a few hours it’ll relinquish its grip back to summer, and the garden will be baking hot. I’ll sit on my laptop with all the doors and windows open. I’ll grab some time in the warmth, flowers around me, with Alice Oswald’s poetry collection ‘Falling Awake’ – delighted to find that the second half is titled ‘Tithonus: 46 Minutes in the Life of Dawn’. It will give words to the morning I could never have shaped myself, Oswald writing, “here come cascades of earliness in/ which everything is asked is it light/ is it light is it light”, and I’ll be carried through page after page: “there is amazement here turning/ wishfully pink above the trees”. She’ll talk of “the lurch the/ well-known slap of joy when/ bird-verse takes a regular line”, of how “a great proximity arches overheard”, of the ways in which “the sky’s a cloth the eye a passer-/by with mirrors”.

But here, with the promise of breakfast ahead, I’m still a passerby. The air is crisp outside the car. The mist is lingering on the fields, and we’ll be back home before anyone else is up.

In between all that rapturous watching, I managed to convince dad to take a few photos of me – having stashed away a vintage ballgown in the car. It was probably 6.45am by this point. It was only when I pulled on the dress that I realized how wonderfully the purple threads in the fabric caught and reflected the purple of the heather. First featured here, it originally belonged to the mother of a neighbour of my distant cousin (tenuous, I know). It doesn’t quite fit any more, ergo the strong ‘hands on hip’ poses: I am literally holding it together.


Rick Forrestal said...

Love that first shot.
It should be Page One in your portfolio.

Closet Fashionista said...

Wow! These photos are amazing!! The third is my favorite I would love to just go and spend a few hours like you did listening to the sounds (or lack) of the hill.

Vix said...

I'm glad you persuaded your Dad to take a few photos of you, they're stunning! xxx

Carlota Antolin Vallespin said...

Beautiful. Everything. Fresh early, empty world that doesn't belong to the humanity. Lovely.

Jess (freedom, books and flowers) said...

Gorgeous. Love the polo neck worn with evening gown combination. There is something magical about being up and awake before anyone else - although I rarely am!


These images of you are captivating. They really are incredibly beautiful with the purple flecks and the vintage dress looks magical here.

Porcelina said...

Oh Lord, these are just heavenly photos! I love them, especially that first shot. You get a sense of the scale of the landscape. I am also rarely up that early, but by jove next time I am, I'll make sure there's a ballgown and a camera in the car!! x

Lola Byatt said...

Oh what a beautiful, beautiful post and the pictures are stunning, that light!! It suddenly just makes me sad that I don't go out and appreciate this morning light every morning, why do I let myself miss this beauty? It also reminds me of first day of school. The first day of school always has a chill in the air and outside looks gloomy and darker than the days we'd previously been used to and it properly marks an end to a summer not just because we're going back to school but because even the sunshine has had enough of entertaining us and I would always marvel at this weird coincidence but later on I realised it was just because during the entire summer holidays, I'd never wake earlier than 9am and so would never get to experience the overnight drop in temperature which is slowly making its way up and the darker mornings!

Izzy DM said...

I think this is my favorite essay of yours that you've written... GASP! I just remembered why I kept strangely wanting to check the mailbox all weekend, although I don't normally bother, on weekends that is. I couldn't understand why the idea kept popping into my baby-brain-addled head. Your book! Your book! It was supposed to be delivered. (It should tell you how dead on my feet I am that I can't spring up right now and ride the elevator downstairs. I also have the excuse of having hurt my neck. Plus, I want to give the mailman one more morning just in case.) You've given me something wonderful to look forward to tomorrow!