For a couple of years when I was a student at Bryan College, I stayed up all night virtually every Tuesday. I was copy editor for our weekly newspaper, The Triangle, and Tuesday nights we did layout because our proofs had to be to the printing press first thing Wednesday. 2 or 3 A.M. we might still be developing black and white photographs in the darkroom. I can still recall the particular texture–sound, smell, tactility–of applying tiny dots of wax with a roller. Affixing print photographs.
I remember the Macintosh. Working with text and sizing articles using Adobe PageMaker. Rituals such as eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Making a run to the Frontier House for a double patty burger with cheese, fries, and a slice of onion half an inch thick. The white styrofoam container. Truck stop fare. A break from our office space. Our tiny editorial staff. Laughing away the late night/early morning. Delivering the proofs in my Volkswagen Rabbit. Producing a fragment of creative output–the student paper–newsprint delivered around campus every Wednesday afternoon.
It was routine irregularity, layout night, a strange sliver of schedule mixed in with the sorts of haphazard sleeping and waking and studying and writing and hiking and working and walking and reading that characterized my college experience.
All of this comes to mind now as a confluence of several thoughts and experiences. Yesterday and today we have driven early to Schweitzer, today catching beautiful 8 o’clock light above Lake Pend Oreille.
I like leaving the house in complete dark (at this time of year and at this latitude, still to be had at 6:45) and transitioning into grey and golden light on the road. Yesterday morning and this, driving Highway 95, somewhere in the valley between the Selkirk and Cabinet mountains, we listened to “Myth” by Beach House. And HÆLOS. And I thought of that early morning scene in Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.
They are at the country house. Richard, Tartt’s first-person narrator, wakes early. Henry is already awake, sitting on the porch, drinking an espresso, smoking a cigarette, translating Paradise Lost into Latin. It’s a scene about insomniacs, and I have thought of it many times over the years, as something in the language, some captured moment, or look, or recognition, or observation, or reflection, resonates with me. It evoked a familiar early morning feeling when I first found the book in 2002 after reading Therese Eiben’s interview with Tartt in Poets and Writer’s Magazine.
Here is part of the text, part of the story.
“‘I sleep better out there than I usually do,’ said Henry, adjusting his glasses and bending back over the lexicon. There was a subtle evidence of fatigue, and strain, in the slope of his shoulders which I, a veteran of many sleepless nights, recognized immediately. Suddenly I realized that this unprofitable task of his was probably nothing more than a method of whiling away the early morning hours, much as other insomniacs do crossword puzzles.
‘Are you always up this early?’ I asked him.
‘Almost always,’ he said without looking up. ‘It’s beautiful here, but morning light can make the most vulgar things tolerable.’
‘I know what you mean,’ I said, and I did. About the only time of day I had been able to stand in Plano was the very early morning, almost dawn, when the streets were empty and the light was golden and kind on the dry grass, the chain-link fences, the solitary scrub-oaks.”
And I think of what the Matador Records HÆLOS website says of the album Full Circle: “Every generation has their own version of the blues, music that captures a sense of melancholia and provides a sonic reflecting pool for young lovers, old souls, and the eternally heartbroken. . . . The London trio’s version of a night out is a million miles away from mirror balls and sweaty bodies, their rippling electronic pop conjuring the exhilarating privacy of a cavernous club’s dark pockets and the introspective comedowns that accompany rainy 5 a.m. cab rides.”
A couple of Sundays ago I 5-A.M. napped by Lake Coeur d’Alene, waking to hike in the dawn light around Tubbs Hill.
Below, the lights of the Coeur d’Alene Resort shone on the docks and boardwalks and boats and boat launch. I saw two statues at the edge of McUen Park that celebrate the miners, construction laborers, and farmers of the past. There are so many named and unnamed, known and unknown, whom we could honor through statuary and story and dance and song. Who are they?
I tried not to bother a man sleeping beneath a green tarp on the sidewalk near the boat ramp. I looked across the lake. I thought of all the people that make up everywhere or anywhere. Their personal histories. Our shared geographies.
In that morning’s quiet, and in this one’s, I get an inkling of the currents that flow around us and connect us, the ones we do and do not see. The conversations we hear. The ones we don’t. And I feel the gaps both marked and subtle too.
In the day-to-day, in the mad tumble of competing demands, the mayhem and cacophony, our increasingly fragmented and liquid culture, I find it both necessary and luxurious to slow. There is much in the world that is “vulgar.” I am too. Angry at times. Frustrated and baffled by my own and others’ apathy and disconnectedness. By recalcitrance and disjointed contexts. But slowing, in that transition from night to day, there is tolerance, and more. There’s the gift of another day. To drive the pre-dawn road. To hear the music. To listen to it. Ambient rhythms and arpeggios. Golden light between the high cloud cover and the grey lake, blue and white mountains in between.
These are older contexts–rhythms of storm and current and tide. Wave frequencies. Harmonies. Disharmonies. Music and winter. Ice. Freeze and thaw. Gravity and fire. Exposure. Wind. These soften and erode and destroy our arrogances and ignorances. I look across the mountain peaks and contemplate the massive lobes of ice that once filled these valleys. Ice extended from far, far to the north.
What did dawn look like above those glaciers? How did the light play on the surfaces of those ancient, fractured, frozen rivers, flowing eventually to the grey-green ocean? How did solar eclipses shadow the crevasses and nunataks? And what echoes, what seismic tremors, what hints remain for us to brush against or register, on this, and/or any other morning?