Country diary: Even the darkest days of the year begin with fiery light

Stamford, Lincolnshire: As we ache for brighter evenings, the mornings are putting on a show

It’s coming. I stand outside in the hard dawn and watch the eastern trees, waiting to see what develops behind them. Anticipating what will spread through the flat grey of the sky, like waiting to see a photograph, back in the days when you had to wait.

For reasons irrelevant here, I’ve been up very early in these weeks leading up to the solstice – that day when the hours start lengthening, and we all start aching for spring, despite the darkest-feeling months still ahead. This ache is often for lighter evenings; but for me, certainly lately, it’s all been about the mornings.

Old, curious sayings needle as I watch. The darkest hour is just before the dawn: a metaphorical quip that today feels curiously real, despite being nonsense. Red sky at morning, shepherd’s warning, and its more optimistic inverse: to do with high pressure systems in the east or west, whether they’re on their way in, or their way out. Early birds. They seem to get all the best things.

Early birds in red sky
‘Early birds. They seem to get all the best things.’ Photograph: Simon Ingram

It’s the birds I’m watching for, really. No chorus at this time of year, just the cold hiss of air, a placebo sound that fills the gap where silence should be. I spot a few black spatters against a sky that is brightening with strides.

Then the colours start. You forget. Every day, you forget what an eruption the dawn is. What a shift. Sunset has something culminating and gradual about it: when the day’s distractions have wearied its impact. Dawn feels fresh. Hopeful, even. Even if just for a minute.

Oranges brush the relief of the high clouds, transforming them into climbing tiers. The sky beyond becomes an ever-richer blue, and for a few minutes it is a riot. The sort of show of colour that lifts you. Wakes you. The birds again: I wonder if they feel it. The sun bursts over the horizon. Climax. And within moments, the day collapses into layers of grey. To anyone who was asleep, that grey was how the day began. But not to us early birds.

Simon Ingram • Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary


Simon Ingram

The GuardianTramp

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