First light

by Jennifer on March 2, 2009

Once, years ago, I had the chance to go turkey hunting. My soon-to-be husband, a hunter, offered to take me along. And I, wanting to prove myself in some way, said yes. (There’s a part of me—the Missouri in me—that likes rough, elemental things and knew this was something I didn’t want to miss. Though I wasn’t looking forward to the shooting part. Not even a little.)

Long before the sky started to shake off the dark, I found myself in the basement, balancing on one leg at a time as I pulled borrowed coveralls (so big I had to roll the sleeves and ankles) over my clothes. We walked, careful and quiet, into the dark woods behind the house and found a place to wait, our backs against a granite boulder. The ghost shapes of turkeys in the trees seemed impossibly large.

I kept my breaths shallow and held myself still. If I made a wrong move out there, if I was the girl, I knew I would never live it down.

After a while, the night started to crawl away, pulling the day toward us like a child tugging a blanket. The sky changed from charcoal to gray to pink. The scissored-out silhouettes of trees morphed to gray and three-dimensional. With every moment, I grew ever more aware that this was what I slept through every single morning. It seemed impossible that I would choose to.

And then from somewhere to the right and not so far off, one bird called, a throaty sound that was soon answered by another. In this way, one creature at a time, the day stirred around and above me.

That’s when we realized our mistake. We had walked in right under the birds. Could he take the shot? Sure. Would it have been very sporting? No. Before long, one after another, the turkeys flew off.

We left the woods empty-handed.

It’s tempting to think that that one hunt set the tone for our marriage, that we carried about as much (as little) out of the woods that morning as we did on our way out of the marriage. Ammunition, the weapons to fire it, a sure aim.

But that’s not fair. Nothing is a clear as that or as fated. But what I felt that morning—that whole, round, alive, feeling like I was so much a part of the world—there’s not another like it. I packed it away inside a box, dusty now, on a high shelf.

Where it takes up no more space than it should. If it means more than that, I can’t figure out how.


I look across the yard at two doves the color of latte that sit on the roof line of the house behind me. They move close and lock beaks for a moment, a pure and tender gesture, the way it looks from here.  They turn to face in the same direction, and I know that when they take flight, they will fly off together.

I think how simple their life seems. To sit on a rooftop and look out over the world. To mate, to nest, to live their one small life. To fly, without even thinking it. Never to know—never to want—anything else. I wonder if they would think we ask too much from this life, the way we expect to be entertained, when there’s nothing prettier than the sky.

That we make our own troubles with our want. With how sure we are that we can slow time until it drags past like a tired river, slow enough that we can run our hand over it, godlike. Impossible. Because no matter how hard we try to hold it all at bay, we still find ourselves driving toward the end of things. Toward last light.

I want to slow it down. Want my son to lose one tooth at a time, instead of three as he did this last week. Want more months to pass between buying clothes for my daughter. She grows so fast. I want for this middle part between first and last, when the light is overhead and bright, to go on and on and on. In that way, and so many others, I fear I am greedy.

But on this morning, the doves and I seem to have nowhere to go, and I can’t look away from them. Time does slow down, I swear it does.

Then, I hear it before I see it. A plane flies over, dragging its shadow over the three of us, the doves and me. For that reason, or any other (it hardly matters), the birds take off.

Leaving me here with these thoughts, this soft ache, this day. I feel it then, like a train pulling away, picking up speed. Time moving forward.


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