Naming the Light
I was out the door a little after 6am this morning, wool cap and hiking boots on, guided through the pre-dawn solely by intuition and the light of the waning moon. I walked a mile down the loop, to the main gravel road, and finally to the state highway. There, on cue, GP pulled up in his little read Honda and we zoomed down the highway in the direction of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We were going to watch the sunrise from the fire tower on the summit of Green Knob.
A little over six miles south down the Parkway we pulled over on the right hand side of the road near a trail marker. By now the light we had hoped to see once we were on top of Green Knob was already reflecting off the hills around us.
“What color is it?” I asked GP.
“Right now? Now it’s a peachy glow. This is only the beginning.” He took one last gulp of his piping hot coffee and we headed up the trail. Within minutes I began to shed layers. First the wool cap, then the fleece vest. GP took off his borrowed flannel, then his turtlefur hat. I kept my wool shirt on, however. From the Parkway, it is only a fifteen minute hike up switchbacks to get to the fire tower, a little over 5,000 feet.
We hiked in silence through the peachy glow and upwards, through a rhododendron thicket. There, a bright ball of orange light was cast in almost spherical perfection across the trail. It was so distinct and singular in shape, an illusion presented itself convincing me that I could touch the light. I wanted to lift it up to my face, look at it on all sides, feels its lightness.
“What color is it now?” I asked GP, with honest curiosity. I tend to write about the sunlight a lot and I was soliciting GP’s opinion because he is a poet.
“Apricot brandy. It’s apricot brandy. This one won’t last long, though.”
We looked through the rhododendron towards the horizon. He was right; the bright orange sun was peering above the horizon already. We wouldn’t see the sunrise proper from the fire tower, but we could stop long enough on the trail to watch it break free of the horizon.
A few minutes further up the trail we hit a fern grove. I never understood that ferns changed with fall too, until I moved to the South. They can go from deep green to lime to yellow to brown. In groves, this change is particularly noticeable, as the light seems to undulate on all sides of the ferns, their lightweight fronts seemingly reflective of the sun’s rays.
“What color is it now?” I asked, nodding in the direction of the fern grove.
“Like white wine,” GP said.
“Chardonnay,” I added. We pressed on. In no time we were racing to the stairs of the fire tower, then at the top we found ourselves suddenly hushed by the view that surrounded us on all sides.
From one vantage point we could look north and trace the Black Mountains from Mitchell all the way down to Celo Knob, then the view was chopped abruptly by the high rising Horse Rock Ridge. To the northeast we could see into Tennessee and Roan Mountain. Further east were Grandfather Mountain, Table Rock, and Hawk’s Bill (Beak?). Outward from the base of Roan was a flat valley covered in dense fog. There, I knew the South Toe Joined the North Toe River, and not long after that the Cane River flowed into it as well, creating a jumble of waters and rapids and therefore, I surmised, explaining the dense fog and evaporation in that part of the valley. GP agreed.
Turning directly east, we stared right at the sun, by now hovering above the horizon, full and perfect yellow and wider than my imagination can stretch. All to the south and west of us lay the Blue Ridge Mountains, layers upon layers of fluffy greens, yellows, and bitter oranges.
“The reason I do this,” GP said nodding to the west at the wall of the Blacks, “is so that I can see the sunlight touch the occasional flecks of scarlet in the trees.” I look at Mitchell, the highest point east of the Rockies, and my eyes trace down the watershed that forms the source of the South Toe. Scarlet dots appear like stars, suddenly visible across a familiar terrain.
“What color is it now?” I asked GP as we descended the steps of the fire tower. He had to get to work and I had a morning of reading then a full shift at the coffeehouse ahead of me. Already, the day was tugging at the edges of my thoughts, making boxes out of ideas and ideas into commands and commands into actions and actions into productivity.
“It’s day. The color of day,” GP said.