At dawn, the window of sky above our narrow river valley is featureless, a muddy pool, but at the lake the horizon opens to reveal a thin band of robin's egg blue in the east. The expanded sky admits a third dimension: northward where the waters of the big lake extend for almost a hundred miles, the soon to be risen sun reflects off the lower surface of the cloud ceiling, mottling it with a mosaic of red and gold and orange. The colors cool as distance from the sun increases: hot orange to pink to mauve and then lavender. All physical attributes are now defined by color: distance, direction, temperature. Even the water glows orange, leaving tracks of second-hand color as each incoming waves retreats across the sand.
This is the first morning that I have walked this beach in almost a week. A strong northeast wind whipped the lake into a frenzy of waves and raised the water level here, on Superior's southwest finger, several feet in a phenomenon that mimics the tidal flow of oceans. The high surf completely covered this beach, swept away the uprooted trees and flotsam from our late spring ice out, battered the red clay cliffs. In open areas where the ground was protected only by grass, the clay has slumped, a gooey, sticky glacier that's calving into the lake. During the storm, the lake water that washed across this beach wasn't blue but milky orange.
Trees offered little protection from the force of the storm. Their roots stripped bare by the constant slosh of water, they hang suspended like some new age ying and yang -- branches extending upward, roots branching downward -- the interface between the two a thin layer of soil held together by a few herbaceous plants: an indrawn breath that will topple on exhale.
A beach is a plastic thing, a landscape in flux. But here the sky also is changing: the area above the shy sun refining, defining with a glow so intense it seems impossible that it is not the actual sun. The glow -- not quite orange, not quite yellow -- sucks color from the surrounding clouds: as the orange increases above the sun, the rest of the sky's blush pales, the edges of individual clouds outlined merely with white. All focus is on the thin band of the horizon where an abrupt fingernail of sun bursts across the surface of the lake, mocking the predawn glow with fierce intensity.
Ahead, the beach is blocked by a mudslide. I turn west, away from the waxing sun, into my shadow.
This first sunlight isn't yellow but a delicate rose color -- perhaps the source of the cliché about hopefully colored glasses: at dawn all things seem possible. Etched in precise relief against the clay cliffs, their iron deposits glowing even redder in this new sun, my shadow creates an interplay of color that is breathtaking in its fleetingness. When the cliffs open up at the mouth of the river, a brilliant white line of standing gulls defines the sandbar, and my shadow alone leaps across the river to the flood-isolated island that's home to nothing but shorebirds and a pair of nesting bald eagles.
The dogs charge into the line of gulls, which wheel and laugh as they skim the shoreline. As I watch the dogs chase, the pink of dawn fades to yellow, then white, sparking off pebbles ignited by the receding waves, gilding with precise white outlines the western ridge of footprints left by yesterday's picnickers. I retrace my steps along the line of wet sand where waves have already erased my moment-old tracks. A spot of color on the dun-tan sand attracts my eye: bright yellow and orange, it recreates the sunrise in miniature, the small scale rendering the colors so bright they seem artificial.
A handful of steps allows me to identify the source: the finger-sized body of a bird. The poor thing lies on its back, exposing a brilliant yellow chest that grades into an intensely orange throat. I know this bird: a male Blackburnian warbler. I heard its song not an hour ago, in the amorphous gray light that preceded sunrise: a buzzy trill rising in pitch at the end like an enraged bumblebee.
I bend down, lift the weightless body and cup it in my hand. The bird seems pliant, vibrant, completely alive. The eyes are closed, the beak slightly ajar. The wings spread easily as the torso rolls across my palm. The fluidity of the muscles convinces me that there might still be life inside the body: at any moment I expect the wings to flutter of their own volition, the bead-black eyes to open, the beak burst into song. Maybe I expect to see life because I desire it so intensely: this tiny warbler is so lovely that it doesn't seem capable of supporting something as final and corrupting as death.
I glance up, away from the small burst of sunrise in my hand. The sky is pearl gray, uniform. The sun has rise above the level of the clouds and the beach is now engulfed by shadow.
Causes Louise Young Supports
articulation of indigenous rights (organization: Cultural Survival)
sustainable, renewable, and independent energy sources