Break of dawn

It’s still dark. As soon as I get out of the car, my breath turns to vapors in the freezing air. I leave the car behind as if I would leave the safety of a boat and launch myself into the open ocean. But this is why I’m here.

The narrow path takes me across the high rocks overlooking the river. The first sun rays hit the rocks but the river remains in the dark.

I imagine all the life down there, the silver fish flashing by in the cold water, the beavers slowly moving about and adding branches to their dam, the deer coming out of the forest to have a drink of water. The beating heart of the forest, still undisturbed by human presence.

Most of the trees have lost all leaves during the winter, but a few of them have miraculously kept their leaves. In the golden sunlight, they light up red-orange. It’s the afterlife of leaves shining bright for one moment. A string of fires punctuating the river valley.

Everything is clear in my head, but the clarity is so intense that it almost burns. There’s a howl somewhere in the distance and I feel a sudden pang of pain, as if it’s me howling through that animal. As if it’s the howling of all creatures under the sun.

But there’s no time for feeling low. Not here and now. I have this whole day in front of me, I have the sun in my eyes and the birds are singing their sunrise song all around.

Sunrise

I’ve been walking across the fields waiting for the first light. Everything is covered in dew. There’s a strange stillness in the air, as if all creation is bracing for sunrise.

First light (Walloon countryside, Belgium, 2018).

Right here and now, everything seems possible. Everything seems to be still ahead, as if the world has been just created and none of its possibilities have been wasted yet.

Later in the day, the burden will maybe return on my shoulders. I will feel the full weight of my lived life and my unlived possibilities. I will feel as if the path ahead is narrowing. I will feel the weight of my past choices, like walls growing taller to the left and the right.

But right now, everything is lying ahead of me, still unborn.

6 am

I am walking through a patch of wilderness that opens towards the North Sea. I want to get to the seashore before sunrise.

The horizon is intense orange slowly turning into gold. I can hear the sea through the breeze, like a white noise softening every other sound on earth. I’ve scared off a few rabbits on my way. The bushes are full of movement and sound. The sand dunes are full of life.

I move along and I stumble upon a flock of sheep. The sun has barely risen above the horizon and the horizontal light turns the sheep into golden snowballs. It smells of dozens unknown plants and flowers, of sea and of animal life. It smells of all the journeys I could have taken and, for some reason, did not take. Of all the unlived things.

But there’s no sadness or regret here and now. Everything is happening so fast. There’s so much to see, so much to feel.

The sea is really close now. I hear the waves close by. One more dune that I struggle to climb, my feet sinking into the sand. Then, all of a sudden, the horizon punctuated by fortifications from the Second World War. I’ve made it just before sunrise.

People have fought and died here just a few decades ago. They have probably sent a letter to their spouses days or hours before the fight. They have probably shared a cigarette with their mates before the shooting and shelling started. It’s all quiet now.

There’s barely enough light but I see the graffitis on the concrete structure in front of me. One word stands out in the dark, in white paint: resist.

In three hours, the sun will be way up and tourists will start entering the dunes to take shelter from the heat. And mankind will once more be all-present and all-powerful. Gloriously leaving behind it plastic garbage, taking selfies on the fortifications and crushing the delicate blue flowers of the dunes.

Then the tide will come in and wash it all away. Wildlife will hide away and stay silent, waiting for the dark. And life will go on.