RFD Maine — A Kind Of Hush
Twilight time holds a certain fascination for me. And not only me, but generations of lovers, poets, musicians, artists and philosophers. Most people think of twilight as occurring in late afternoon, but it also happens in the morning, i.e., dawn and dusk.
Of course for those who must travel to work every day, twilight time simply means a mad scramble, battling oncoming headlights and a rush to either get to work or get home. So it isn’t surprising that few of us ever purposely take time to savor twilight time. But even so, most everyone at one time or another finds themselves at loose ends at sunup or sundown.
And when that happens, I highly recommend taking some time and watching the process of the world either waking up or shutting down.
Two summers ago, I woke up at the first hint of dawn and could not get back to sleep. So I got up, went outside and sat in a folding chair always ready by my front door. Then, with a cup of hot coffee in hand, my vigil began.
The world was totally quiet. No distant traffic, no dogs barking and, strangely, no birds singing. The treeline at the edge of my lawn was still dark, but as the sun rose, the darkness gave way to a pastel shade of yellow, very muted and not at all bright. Not a breath of air stirred the grass or leaves. But that was to change very soon.
The rising sun cast its first rays upon the treetops and with that, the pastel colors faded and while the treetops were now brightly lit, the rest of the trees again plunged into darkness. It was the contrast between light and dark that made it so.
And then, after I went back in the house for another cup of coffee, something happened. A poplar leaf began to twitch and within less than one minute, other leaves stirred. The rising sun, with its growing warmth, had stirred air currents into motion. Anyone who has watched the dawn break over a tranquil lake or pond has seen the results of this phenomenon in the form of little ripples kissing the surface.
A line of sunlight slowly marched across my lawn. Somewhere in the distance, a tractor trailer made a high-pitched sound as it rolled down a distant highway. A dog, perhaps one mile away, began barking. And the coolness of the dawn gradually gave way to the surging heat of the day. And at the edge of the lawn, a robin sang its liquid tune.
What an experience that was. I remained transfixed through most of it, with the exception of my trek inside for more coffee. It would never occur to me to do this purposely, but luckily for me, it just happened.
Only recently, when the moon was just a skinny crescent, I noticed that something like my above-mentioned daybreak experience was occurring, but of course, in reverse.
So I got my binoculars, bundled up and sat in that same folding chair to watch the world go to bed. The moon had risen while it was still daylight, but now, the visible horizon just above the treetops was acquiring a darker shade of blue. And as the sun sank in the west, the moon got progressively brighter.
At first, my binoculars showed few lunar features, but as the sky darkened, the image became crisp and it became easy to pick out the little hills in the center of larger craters. Also, the terminator, that line between night and day, disclosed eerie shadows on crater sides.
The sun eventually disappeared behind the western horizon and now strata of pink, yellow and blue spread out in the southwest. This was similar to the false dawn prior to sunrise, but with more pronounced shades and more distinct colors.
My neighbor’s dog, which had been barking at regular two-minute intervals, became silent. Distant traffic noise, which up to that point was inaudible, became clear. Someone shot off a shotgun, or perhaps it was fireworks. And long shadows stretched across my lawn.
At the beginning of this session, there was a slight, gentle breeze. But now, that dissipated and the air became completely still. Not a leaf rustled and I felt rather like a little caterpillar in a cocoon, bundled up and snug in the chair in front of my rustic cottage.
Stars began poking out on the celestial dome, dull at first and finally, bright, brilliant, dazzling. The distant noises diminished and everything was cold, still and very, very quiet.
After finding a few deep-sky objects with the image-stabilized binoculars, I developed a chill, born of sitting still for so long. The magic of twilight time had ended for another day and I arose and went back inside.
There was something amazing about both the experiences I just related. Although they occurred at the place in the world I know best, my front yard, it seemed as though I had been transported to a foreign land, unfamiliar and full of mystery.
That was, of course, due to my seeing a familiar sight through a different lens. You can enjoy a similar experience no matter where you live. Just go out at dawn or dusk, sit down and get comfortable and clear your mind. And get ready for an unforgettable pageant to take place before your eyes.