In the last moments of darkness Orion is almost straight overhead, his stance firm as he tracks the night westward. He steps across the roofline, and the sky lightens behind him. His belt and shield gradually fade from view; soon only Betelgeuse at his shoulder and Rigel at his foot remain. After lingering alone for a while, Cheshire cat-like, they, too, wink out in the growing dawn.
Mornings on the patio have a different flavor these days. In summer, by the time I settle in the Adirondack chair with a mug of tea, the day is already moving along. The goldfinches are working on their second course, the hummingbirds on their second squabble, and the garden is lively with light and sound and color and motion.
Now it is still dark when I go outside, the sun barely up when I head back in to get ready for work. The hummingbirds have taken their squabbles south for the winter, and the goldfinches are still abed. The crickets have gone silent. These mornings I cradle the hot mug gratefully between my hands, both for warmth and for company; I had forgotten what the garden is like when it's quiet. The only sound is the white noise of the highway, the sleepless truck traffic on the long haul to California or Tennessee.
Most mornings are clear, and the distant stars yield gracefully to our own in skies of pale, liquid gold and pink, of Alice blue. Other mornings are thick with constellations of clouds, nebulae that pulse with energy as the sun glances off them.
Yesterday morning was altogether different, with pearly skies and fresh, moist air. We had had rain the night before, the kind that lulls you to sleep with its quiet music on the roof and takes care not to wake you when it goes. It left behind an inch of moisture and washed even the sky clean—the morning was white with thinning clouds, lustrous in the dawn light.
It wasn't a morning for flowers, even though the autumn sage and marigolds and agastache were glowing like jewels under water. Instead it was a morning for leaves, washed clean of a month's worth of dust, gleaming in the diffused light, gathering, funneling, clinging to each droplet of rain before finally releasing it to quench the earth below and satisfy the thirsty roots at their feet. A morning for greenery and the cool of serenity. A morning just right for quiet.
As autumn grows I am aware of night not so much as the waking sphere of hawk-moths and crickets, the appointed time for secret feline rendez-vous, but as the realm of dormancy, of quiet and dreaming. Dawn is no longer a shifting continuity, the changing of the guard between one set of lives and another, but a boundary between stillness and activity, a line dividing oblivion from alertness. In the last minutes of darkness out on the patio I am aware of upstairs lights coming on as alarm clocks go off, the rumble of a car starting and the crunch of gravel under tires, the first chirp of the earliest bird turning into a sleepy chorus—aware of each day really being something new, clean, its own, isolated thing, and not the continuation of the moments before. I'm not sure whether this is good or bad or neither.
Lately, by the time I finish my tea, the last swallow has grown cold.