Desert winter, morning light - SunStar

Desert winter, morning light

Lawrence YpilLawrence Ypil
Dog-ears in the wrong notebook

WHEN one has not woken up early in the morning before the sun has risen for a very long time, one wonders why one doesn’t do this more often.

Here where the sun rises at seven, instead of the usual six at home, where I live seven storeys high instead of at ground level, meaning at bush level, at leaf-gaze, the height of the midway mark on the trunk of a tree that is older than me, the sun rises behind a building that is taller than the one I live in. The day makes an appearance like the subtle way a movie once made itself felt to me years ago: through its music, as in a record store one stumbles into in Canada, the score of a move you have yet to see playing on the speakers, an old song from your father’s generation, resurrected on this decade to serve as background music to a movie about two lovers who live in a city that is Hong Kong, but is not Hong Kong, is the city in which they love each other, but never get to fulfil it. Is a movie the fulfilment of a song? Is watching a movie a year after you hear it’s soundtrack a kind of fulfilment of a contract you did not know you were making that morning, walking into the record store, entering into a kind of preemptive nostalgia: a kind of longing for something that you haven’t lost yet. No, not even that. Preemptive nostalgia as a kind of longing for something that you didn’t even have yet. So when you finally watch the movie a year later, it will seem like watching a movie again, having already heard its music, even if one had no idea what was going to happen next. It will seem like the memory of a thing that has never happened. Is this what is called deja vu? Although in case, it isn’t the “already seen”, but the already heard. That way the sun rises at seven, even if you know in your body that it really rises at six, has already risen in fact just when you see it rise, there where you know you’re always either about to be in, or have just left.

AP photo
AP photo

I suspect I have written about this before, but I may not have.

I apologise if I have, already, but then, on second thought, I actually don’t

What are your mornings like, there where you are, still sleeping?

I am rereading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek this week, thinking that after having just seen the desert, there was a way to sustain the kind of looking and being and moving any encounter with nature encouraged.

When one is used to the bustle of human life in the city, what is one to do in the face of the aridity of the desert? Its emptinesses. Its shifting samenesses. Heidi, who grew up in this landscape, explains it to me on the bus: “There are many kinds of desert, depending on the kind of sand that it’s made of. You’ll see it, when we begin to move out of the city. You’ll see the sand suddenly change. Do you see this hue of brown? It’s going to turn any moment now into a shade that seems like it’s tinged with a soft red.”

When all you’ve grown up with are flowers, how do you read the sand?

Of course I should be reading a book about the desert, wanting to keep the memory of it, slowly fading (“like the sands in the distance” I am tempted to write), still fresh in my mind. But I haven’t gotten the right recommendation yet. Even if I’ve been asking the internet, “Good desert writing?,” wanting to read someone who would explain to me what exactly is captured in that mix of sun, sand, and deep shade, which seemed to me being there, walking against the sand dunes, sitting in an empty fort built to protect nothing from no one, an empty well in the middle — was like a kind of deep interiority, but in broad daylight. All I’ve gotten so far, however, have been recommendations of travel narratives, accounts by outsiders like myself trying to make sense of the desert. In many ways, it’s the account of the native that I want to find — in the multiple definitions of “native” there is: 1.) someone who belongs to a place, mostly by virtue of birth, 2.) someone who is part of a landscape, mostly serving a function vital to it, 3.) someone who because he understands a place so deeply within himself, he is most probably wont to not have to articulate it in words and therefore will probably not have any impulse to write about it.

How to understand a landscape that seems not so much selfish of itself, but scanty? Scarcity of water and brush. Absence of bird and gulp. In the harsh and dry light of the desert, one cannot help but think of the tropics as generous. How to survive a landscape with nothing much to give? If not by giving.

So I return to winter. And Dillard’s lush prose that earned her a Pulitzer Prize at 27 years old. I think of the late mornings, the early evenings of another time and place. The slippery black ice on streets. Wind chill.

Snow up to the knees. Coats one needs to wear if one were to step out and begins to hate when it’s the third straight month in a row. The breath visible. The sting in the nose. The laugh. That long deep laugh of nothing and everything and it is winter world is hard with grit and waiting and love. Harsh glare of light on light, sun on snow, yellow on white. It must be this bright if one can imagine it, in the desert.

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