The Morning World
Through the mist there are the mountains. It is dark yet on the valley floor where the city is and I can see to the east where the mountains are that behind them there is the sun and the pale blue color of a clear desert sky. It is the morning after the first heavy snowfall of the season. The air is crisp and dry and the fires have been burning all night long and on into the cold dawn where the wood smoke has risen high up the sides of the mountains to rim the valley in a blue-white veil. Later the veil will be burned off by the sun, showing the mountains sharper and cleaner and whiter and purer against the sky, stronger and standing more absolute than usual in their bright majesty of long tall centuries. This is how they belong, friend, incontrovertibly majestic and without peer, sustainers of prayers and dreams and heights and visions.
As I walk my breathing is light and visible and I think of the breath of wild mustangs in the high deserts of Nevada turning their heads in the snowfall and moving forth slowly in search of food. I can hear the strike of my boots on the cement resonating down the street across the ice and snow and it is the only sound in the air other than the chirping of the birds. The early morning is a vital and precious thing, invigorating and astounding in its clarity. All around me there lies the snow, heavy and soft and thick like a velvet curtain fallen. When it warms further toward the mid-afternoon and the sun has been out good and strong over the mountains it will be important to walk beneath the overhanging limbs with a high upturned collar to prevent the melting snow from falling down the back of the neck at the slightest breeze. But still, it is a quiet and motionless morning except for the tiny hardy birds that flit from limb to twig to fence to eave to steeple (I think they might be starlings, there are so many of them – fifty or more in a single tree), quick and tireless and wary, hungry for seed or crumb. Occasionally too, there is the stray cat who pauses in mid-stride to observe my approach, only to slink off in a continual search for warmth and food before I get near. There are people as well - two or three early risers emerging from their doorways like sleepy children born into a new season, yawning over steaming coffee and shivering with cold and excitement. The cold is a shock and cheeks redden quickly. The people are fast back within their homes.
This is the morning world of the city in the valley. This is the morning world, and I am alive in it walking its streets, counting its cars, listening to its birds and songs and tires and doors opening or closing, watching the mountains through the buildings and thinking of how life is hardest and truest on the mountains where somewhere there is a hare with a twitching nose at the edge of a meadow beneath a bush, unconcerned about death or the long solemn vision of the hawk on the boulder in the sun. Amidst the waking life of the morning I oddly think of death and the talon and a small clear squeal lost against a high long sky that is pale and empty beneath which there drips from a wound a red trail of blood onto the mountain. Always there is death in the winter on the mountain. And down on the streets where I am walking there is also death, but death longer and slower and more weary, cold loveless and lonely and far less majestic or poignant. There are those damned cats, you see, who when pausing to look, look down the walk over the snow without a clear conception of their own imminent deaths, but somehow appear so forlorn and hopeless that when they bow their heads to move on it is as if they know, deeply, that their struggle is now tenfold the greater and you cannot help but sorrowfully look after them at their tracks that are fresh down the alley behind the backs of buildings that their people once lived in.
Turning away to walk on, though, I hug myself against the cold and declare that, despite the arrival of the cruel season it’s good to be under the sun in the morning world and it’s good to be present and attentive. I know I am alive because I can see my breath and I smile at this, ever aware of my own mortality. But beyond that I am aware of the heights of deep and emotional living, my visions and my dreams, and pleased to be not just breathing to one day die without ever having been aware.
Copyright © Horse of the Sun and Keith Haines 1999-2002. All Rights Reserved.