Wednesday, August 23, 2006
I crept as quietly as possible out of my bedroom hoping no one would hear me, wake up, and perhaps want to go with me. I felt like being alone. I put in my contacts, found the golf cart key, my Bible, and a beach towel, and slipped out the back door. The salt air was warm and humid. I unplugged the golf cart and flipped the switch to reverse, hoping that the hum of the air conditioner inside would drown out the beep of the golf cart as I backed it away from the house. I put it in forward, switched on the headlight and headed out onto the empty street. I was a stealth beachgoer, sneaking away unnoticed, going to a show I wanted to experience alone that morning.
I was ready to be an observer, to watch pen in hand, scribbling almost illegible notes in the dark. I wanted to see, really see the sunrise in all its glory and force myself to describe it as carefully as I could. That’s something you can only do alone because if someone is with you, you have to talk about it. I wanted to be quiet.
As I drove the four blocks to the beach, I noticed the waning moon above. Only the smallest sliver was lit, but I could see the rest of the round ball, dim above the bright crescent. The illumined sliver was like icing on the edge of a cookie. I imagined a big hand, God’s hand, dipping the moon cookie into shimmering icing, pulling it out and placing dipped cookie with shining icing in the sky. Venus, the morning star, was an icing drop down below the moon. Treats He put in the darkness of the predawn day for those up early enough to enjoy.
I reached the beach access, parked the golf cart, and walked up the steps and over the dunes, down onto a deserted beach. The sky was dark, and the familiar stars of Orion’s belt hung in the eastern sky above the ocean. A bank of cumulus clouds met the horizon, their billowy shapes dark against a darker sky.
I spread my towel on the soft sand and sat down to wait. The beach was completely empty. The light from the end of the fishing pier, eight blocks north, shone out over the water. The waves crashed and roared. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the sky began to lighten and a dull peach glow lit the underside of the clouds closest to the horizon. The first people I noticed were tiny, dark silhouettes far down the beach.
The cloudbank was an audience, its face toward the sun, its back toward me. As the sky slowly grew lighter, one billowy tip of a cloud face began to brighten as it reflected the still hidden sun. Orion’s stars began to grow dimmer. A casual walker with his coffee ambled onto the beach to share the show.
The sun was still below the horizon, but the sky grew brighter, casting the cloudbank into higher relief, its dark gray backside toward me. The peach backdrop below the cloudbank hugged the horizon and began to spread, lighting the narrow strip of firm sand at the edge of the breakers.
An airplane taking off from the airport to the north swung out east over the ocean giving sleepy travelers a sneak preview of the sunrise. The plane banked, turned, and headed landward. A few moments later, another plane headed east and followed the same course. Those travelers had seen the sun and the shining faces of the cloud audience, but I was still waiting, watching as the colors grew more intense.
Activity on the beach was beginning to increase. A blinking yellow light atop a green John Deere Gator signaled the approach of a beach trash man. He drove slowly toward me, stopping now and then to pick up beach trash with his extendable claw grabber. A runner passed. A gull flew over. A shirtless man walked out onto the beach, shoes in hand to test the water. As he stood at the edge of the tide, the waves crashed over his feet. “Come earlier tomorrow,” I thought, “and see the whole show.” But he didn’t seem to be there for the sunrise show. He stood still, gazing out over the water, not looking toward the sunrise at all. I wondered what – or who – he was thinking of. Did he have a friend, a loved one, a buddy somewhere on the other side?
The clouds were whiter now, though the sun was still hidden. The aqua sky was brushed with pink streaks. The dull peach light had turned to yellow orange brightness. The glowing contrail of a distant plane heading west streaked the sky. The pilot, perhaps all unaware, was painting the morning sky. The clouds were now fringed with light.
Then a fisherman stepped onto the beach. He carried a long surf-fishing pole in one hand and a kitty litter bucket in the other. A chair with straps like a backpack was slung over one shoulder. It clanked as he walked. A long canvas bag hung over his other shoulder. He set down his chair and bag, thrust a PVC pipe into the sand, and slid his fishing pole into it. He opened the litter bucket and took out his tackle box and camera. He unfolded his chair and then began to assemble the canopy that he carried in the bag.
The sky was turning lighter, a faint white-yellow behind the clouds now, and I began to wonder if that was all I would see. Perhaps the sun would remain hidden behind the clouds until it rose high enough to shine above them and I wouldn’t really see it ascend from the horizon at all. I stopped watching to read my Bible. 2 John, 2 Chronicles 31, the story of Hezekiah…..I was immersed in the reading but something made me stop and look up. The glowing orange ball of the rising sun was sliding up at the edge of the sea and the sky. Small cloud shapes dotted it as it became larger and rounder. And then the top of the ball slid into an envelope of clouds above and just as quickly as it had popped into sight, it hid itself again behind the clouds. I had almost missed it. The sky grew brighter and brighter and rays began to shine out on all sides of the clouds - above, to the side, and below.
The sound of a diesel tractor disturbed the quiet. Down the beach its black smoke colored the morning air. The tractor was driven by another one of the beach trash men on his early morning rounds, collecting trash from the cans along the edge of the dunes. He hopped off the tractor and dumped the contents of the trash cans, crushed soda cans, food wrappers, broken beach toys and other cast-offs from yesterday, into the dumpster on the trailer behind the tractor. I watched him and then turned back to watch the sunrise, hoping he and his noisy, smelly tractor would drive away. But he didn’t. I started to feel mildly annoyed at this disturbance when I looked back at him and saw that he, too, was here for the show. This wasn’t just his morning duty. He was a sunrise spectator like me. He had his camera in hand, taking picture after picture of the clouds in their brilliance. I looked down the beach at the fisherman. He was doing the same thing. Trash man, fisherman, walkers, and sedentary watchers like me had all joined the cloudbank audience that morning.
The sunrise show passed its climax. Gray, peach, orange, and yellow blazed into the white heat of another August day. Time to go home. Time for a run, then coffee. I gathered my towel and Bible, mounted the steps and climbed over the dunes to the golf cart. I had to wait for a car, two cars before crossing the street this time. The four block drive was not stealthy this time, but shared with others, up and about their morning business.
As I drove back, I felt richer for sitting on the beach for two hours. I was blessed by the beauty of the sunrise, a daily free and glorious gift from the ever creating hand of God, a gift that shouts praise to Him but that goes unnoticed, at least by me, most days. I was very glad I had gotten up early.
I was glad I had gone alone, too, but decided that the show should be shared tomorrow. I drove home hoping I’d have some sunrise companions that would join the fisherman, the trash men, the walkers, and me the next morning. If Joel or Matthew would come along, then instead of solitude and silent watching and recording, we could notice things together. We could talk about colors, point out cloud shapes, and ask questions about the waning moon, the planets, and the sun. I could share the gift, and hope that their thoughts, too, would turn to the Giver of every good and perfect gift, the painter of every sunrise, the one whose glory is declared by the heavens.
"...He has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber and like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat." Psalm 19:5,6