The beauty of a sunrise and sunset

Published 7:23 pm Monday, January 31, 2011

Sitting on the side of a hill against a tree in the dark and cold sipping on a cup of hot Slung Coffee from the thermos at my side was satisfying. Whether I got a shot or not, this morning was starting out fine. It was foggy, which delayed the glint of pink dawn in the east, but soon the first small hints of light began to appear through the treetops, then the fog seemed to drop, hovering about halfway up tree level, letting the dawn break through slightly. There was a cloudbank in the east which began to take on all the colors of a gentle rainbow — not harshly red like dawn breaks sometimes.

There’s an old sailor’s rhyme: “Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning; red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” As an old sailor, I appreciated the promise of today’s dawn: the soft hues of pink, lemon, a faint greenish cast here and there, the blue of the sky in the breaks in the clouds, a golden haze crowning the show. Then a strange phenomenon took place: the low heavy fog suddenly turned to frost on limbs and leaves, vines and grasses. Those particles of ice now picked up and reflected to the world the dawn’s rainbow colors, so that the entire scene glistened in a fascinating kaleidoscope before me. It was breathtaking, a morning to remember whether a buck came by or not.

From out of the brightening east I caught a movement, and a moment later a low-flying huge bird sailed upward and perched halfway into a cottonwood tree about fifty yards away. I figured that it was a wild turkey, but turkey season wasn’t open, and I wasn’t finished mirating over the colorful spectacle before me yet. Maybe ten minutes later, when it was full light, I eased my rifle up and put the scope on the turkey.

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It was a bald eagle! No mistaking it. I wondered idly, watching him fluffling up and picking at something he had on the limb, if eagles are white meat, like hawks and owls. I’m not really supposed to know that, am I? At any rate, I wasn’t going to find out today. This eagle was too much fun to watch. Probably a half dozen big bucks pranced across the ground in front of me as I sat for thirty minutes watching that eagle in the tree through my scope.

Two hawks came floating over the treetops then, and obviously spotted the eagle, because they changed course to circle the cottonwood, then both of them lit in the higher branches of that same tree. For ten minutes the three birds of prey seemed to study each other, then the eagle shrugged and pitched out from his limb, flapping briefly headed west. The hawks, I reckon having established their territorial rights, stayed for a few minutes, then continued their hunt going east.

Late that evening, not having seen a deer that I wanted to take a whack at, I was treated to another of God’s spectacular exhibitions. The “Red sky, sailor’s delight” was there in all its glory. The western cloud bank began to tint pink first, and then, ‘way up there, appeared what we used to call a Sun Dog, in the Navy. It’s just a small piece of rainbow off by itself, supposedly caused by the reflection of the sun’s rays off of ice crystals in the upper atmosphere, and not as usual a sight on land as it is at sea. A flight of geese crossed the sun dog, too far for me to hear their cries, then it slowly disappeared as the red of sunset began to spread, the hint of pink going briefly to gold, then reddening until the bloody ball of the sun touched the edge of the horizon. It seemed to me that it should have made a noise, like Kipling describes the dawn coming up like thunder across the bay at Mandalay. Too majestic to be silent.

Mississippi is the Number One state, east of the River, in the percentage of population that hunts, fishes, or engages in nature-oriented recreation — that ain’t golf, Bubba. Ove three-quarters of Magnolia Staters have experienced the Blessings of God’s Great Outdoors on a regular basis.

That day, I was Number One in the state, hands down.