This story by CarolL was first published on Square Pegs (squarepegs.overspillers.net) public fiction section.
Dawn comes very slowly. It isn’t the sudden popping up of the sun and an instant transformation from night into day; maybe in the tropics somewhere, but not here, not in England on the Grand Union Canal.
I had woken very early and crept out of bed, not wishing to disturb Mike. I pulled a jumper over my head and went through to the galley area and quietly made a brew, peering through the cracks in the little ill-fitting curtains while the kettle boiled at the very faint streaks of light slowly appearing. With hands round the mug for warmth against a chill that often pervades so early in the day, even in the sort of heavenly week we were enjoying, I sat on one of the seats in the little area at the back of our narrow boat and absorbed the magic of pre-dawn.
It was very silent, or so I thought at first, but I quickly became aware of gentle lappings on the side of the boat and the odd mysterious plop. Time stood still and I found myself breathing slowly, relaxing into the nothingness until, like the Piper at the gates of dawn, the first bird sent its message to all the others and the dawn chorus began. Unless you have been in a silent isolated place and experienced what I was listening to, it is hard to imagine how joyously loud and life-affirming such a simple thing as waking birdlife can be. Enchanted, I listened, saddened only by the fact I realised how few birdsongs I could identify.
The wisps of light were expanding, fingering through the navy clouds that were, themselves, showing just the faintest change of colour at their base, a rosiness announcing the sun was waking too. Yet this as yet invisible sun was sending warmth ahead of its light and the air around me thickened into opacity, cool air being greeted by the coming day. Droplets of moisture clung to me, hung in the air all around me until a slight stirring of the air sent them in gently moving drifts across the surface of the canal to swirl like smoke from a bonfire through the trees alongside.
My world too hung in suspension, the last grip of night challenged by the increasing lightening of the skies and the stirrings all around, poised ready to face the day. A duck had swum unseen alongside our boat and greeted its mate so loudly, I jumped and spilt thankfully cooled tea down myself. Its mate quacked back with vigour and gave chase. I smiled as they sped across the bow of the boat, seemingly walking on water like latter-day saints. I love ducks; they always amused me, having apparently caught God in a happy carefree mood during the Creation, for what other explanation could there be for such amusing creatures?
Almost at once, I became aware of many other species, night-time hunters scurrying into holes in the banks or through the undergrowth for the safety of their homes before day fully broke; others emerging, hungry, looking for their first meal of the day. A fox slunk from under the hump back bridge near which we had moored for the night and disappeared immediately and, shortly after, a family of rabbits felt emboldened to emerge to nibble on the towpath. The light was stronger, though still no sun, and I could make out the cowslips I had admired the night before, a rare enough sight these days, proud yellow bugles clustered on tall stems while gentler, paler sister primroses clung to the safety of the ground close by.
Then suddenly, yes suddenly, there really was a single moment when it changed after all, the mist was there one minute and in the next had gone just as a first ray of sunlight pierced the bridge’s gloom and shone straight into my face in greeting for one brief unforgettable moment. No summer solstice at Stonehenge could eclipse my wonder at having been in the right place at the right time. In a flash, it had gone, as if an illusion, and the sun rose above the bridge and flooded my world. Content, way more than content, I stood and stretched and looked forward to another day just messing about on the water