Just as dawn breaks, while the chill of the night lingers in the gray dark and the birds have not yet trilled, I rise in twilight to welcome the day.
This is the most cherished hour for me, everything about it surfeit, from the muslin film of darkness to the dense pile of velvet silence. Quiet and stillness like this has substance and texture, everything as liquid and drifting as the escape from time itself.
This might be the coast of eternity or cold infinity, but by sun-up, a riot of sound, form and movement will erupt — from the crescendo of the song birds; with the last, least skittering mammal foraging a few more minutes for seeds under the cover of leaf-fall and night; from the distant traffic on the other side of the margin of woods, along the back road that runs by the cabin; in my rote preparations for the day — coffee, breakfast, shower, clothes.
During this amber part of the day no stress pulsates, no matter what the schedule may be for later hours, and turmoil for now is only an abstract concept. But lately I have found something else on this edge of the dawn, a condition that is especially comforting: emptiness.
Twilight in early morning carries a sonic as well as visual sense of vacancy, as though a stage has been abandoned by actors but still retains its set and the echo of voices. Nothing moves except the wind and what it bears in its wake. Sound seems dissipated, a ghost of itself.
For perhaps half an hour, everything I look at seems to be caught in a photographic frame of memory, something brief, immediate and fixed, my vision breaking down into slices of film, the shadowy forms of stills, developed but not yet printed. I watch light creep into the landscape: the conifers still blurred, the bark of the oaks slowly roughening into hard form, the boulders unshakeable foundations, the tall grass and briar still dark as ocher lace.
“Silence is an empty space,” the Buddha said. “Space is the home of the awakened mind.”
Or of the heart of mourning.
I know that the sense of space that has overwhelmed me, wafting from twilight into full day, has extended itself into my own emptiness — within and without. For the time being, because I have lost someone I loved — none the less for her being a dog — I have no choice but to be carried along in a boat without oars — this vessel of grieving — adrift on what seems an endless, open sea. I know, even without interior maps to guide me, that there is a shore, or shoal, upon which the sea will release me. But floating is all I’ve got for now.
So I take solace where I can find it — in beauty best, in silence most — gazing on a changed world, watching the frames intently, to decipher what is not lost, what cannot end.
I have never been a master of meditation, having been burdened by an anxious mind, but this ambivalence of inner, emotional space has given me another chance. Something must occupy the emptiness, this niche waiting to be filled.
For today, what fills it is the twilight hour at either side of the day. There and then, I try over and over to discover the place in which I find myself — in solitude in a wild world. Each day I let my mind settle on some seed of wisdom or wonder.
“These teachings are like a raft,” Buddha instructed. “(It is) to be abandoned once you have crossed the flood. Do not speak — unless it improves on silence.”
Last week’s enhancements on silence, a day’s worth of gifts in the emptiness, one sunrise-to-sunset fleeting insights of space, included these: the first tumbling leaves of autumn, gliding like bits of shredded fabric, to the ground; the din of crickets and grasshoppers, seldom seen but symphonic in the evening air; a tiny yellow and black goldfinch speeding across my field of vision like a muzzle-loading bullet of color or a flame flying; the purple loosestrife like cattails turned inside out; the drying dock weed the first foreshadowing of winter.
In the frames of still images I hold are the dun-colored shorn sheep, grazing so slowly in the fields that they seem frozen there. Far out in the wetlands, a familiar flock of Canada geese pad through muddy flats, while nearer to where I am, a farmer is baling hay, filling the morning air with a sweet, light perfume, cut grass and greenery emptying their stems, creating still another space.
These things fill me now, as best they can, these medicinal memories. With time and patience, stillness and silence, I remember I will be healed.
North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: