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The Joy of Cruising in the Fall: The everyday miracle

by Daria Blackwell

The moment before dawn in Zeigler's Cove and all is well in the world.
I awoke early one morning, even before Onyx stirred; Onyx is our cruising kitty who always insists on greeting us with a kiss at dawn. As I rolled over and tried to “not think” myself back to sleep, I realized it was still quite dark outside.  An owl “who-who-ted” the night away somewhere along the shore.  There was barely a ripple out there and the gentle swaying was perfectly soothing, yet for some reason I was wide awake.  I lay there savoring being aboard our boat on one of our last weekends of the season. 

When Onyx did arrive with a leap and a purr, we cuddled for a short while then she snuggled up next to Alex.  That's when I heard it.  A cry from high above – could it be an eagle welcoming the dawn light?  I had to get up to see. The sun was just beginning to lift the darkness as I slipped out of the V-berth, careful not to disturb Alex and Onyx, and went on deck. 

It was early November and we were in Zeigler’s Cove not far from Stamford on the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound.  Normally, this gem of a gunkhole is crowded to capacity, but today it was just us and one other cruising sailboat - one of the joys of sailing in the Fall.  Early as it was, today was shaping up to be a very special day indeed. I could feel it all around me.

The night was cool, but it was uncharacteristically balmy for this time of year.  It was still dark yet, with the sun a short way below the horizon, the sky was beginning to acquire a soft warm hue.  The anchor light of the cruising ketch just outside our secluded cove provided the perfect counterpoint to the light that flashed red, then white, every ten seconds from the lonely light house on the rock to the east.  My timing was perfect.  Moment by moment, the sky was being painted in impossibly soft colors that no palette could recreate…that no words could adequately describe…that no artist could paint without it seeming unreal.  The eagle soared high overhead crying out into the dawn, as if she were flying ever higher to be the first to greet the sun this morning.

Sun rising over the lighthouse.

I stepped below to put on some warmer clothes, and just moments later back on deck I could not believe my good fortune.  The sun had started creeping up over the horizon just beside the lighthouse.  The lights combined to create a path along the gently rippled water which seemed to point directly to where I was standing.  The silence of that moment was deafening, as every other sense began to fill with complete wonderment.  I felt like the deck of our boat was part of a stage and the main act was just about to begin. The water all around us was lighting up with a rosy golden glow and the surface gleamed like antique glass.  Surely, I was the only one in our world witnessing this spectacle… that is, the eagle and I.  We watched together, she soaring overhead and I on the deck of our boat.  I wondered in awe if she was lucky enough to witness this miracle every day as we mere humans went about our “normal” sheltered lives.

The transitions were subtle from moment to moment, but dramatic if you looked away for even an instant.  Color, depth, motion; it was a wonderful visual assault.  Ripples on the water broke the sunstream into a flowing mosaic that drew me toward the horizon, willing me to pick up our anchor and sail off in search of the distant shore that was the sun’s home.  It was still so quiet.  Everyone was asleep, except for the eagle and me.

Suddenly, it seemed the entire world awoke at the exact same instant and started to sing praises to this glorious dawn.  There were birds chattering everywhere around us, fish rising to get a glimpse, insects rowing out from shore for a better view, and the sun’s rays lighting up the majestic fall colors in varying degrees of intensity.  The shoreline was changing from two-dimentional shades of gray to spectacular depth and I didn’t want to blink.  I could not have willed my body to leave.  I was riveted to every sound, every sight, every smell.  The world was alive and so was I.   Was no other human soul witnessing this miracle?  How could I be so lucky to share this private screening with the eagle? 

Geese about to pass within inches of my head.
The theme from “The Lion King” filled my mind, and the natural rhythms of the kingdom that was now on the move all around us filtered into it.  An egret stretched its legs regally against the backdrop of a wet-dark shore.  A seagull spotted a rising fish and dropped down out of its perch for its breakfast.  A flock of geese splashed down for a rest in the sun’s reflecting beam.  Another flock came flying by in formation and passed mere inches over my head.  I could feel the percussion of air as their wings beat down over me, and I fought the impulse to duck out of the way.  Suddenly, geese were flying in from every direction, making an indelible impression with their cacophony.  Some were flying a foot above the surface of the water, using its surface to provide lift on their long journeys.  Others were flying in large formations high above us, taking turns at the lead position and alternately resting in the draft of their flock.  I wondered what it must have been like in the last century when they say the sky turned black with geese heading for their winter refuges. 

Snowy egret streching its legs.

Then, the color.  Oh, the color.  Words like “splendor” and “majesty” were springing into my thoughts.  Brilliant oranges, blistering yellows, and regal reds were now reflecting from the shore and glowing against the backdrop of the new day.  What a job the sun was doing to the earth!  Small wonder the ancients worshipped “sol”, as many of us still do. 

As the sun rose ever higher, dogs began barking and the first fishermen started their engines.  The magic moment had passed, or had it?  A new day had begun. I wondered what else it would bring.  I wondered if this would be just like any other day on the Sound or if today was one of a kind, perhaps somehow made different because the eagle and I had witnessed its birth.

Breakfast was a good place to continue pondering that question.  Then I could share it all with Alex, and Onyx and you.  What a great way to keep the memory alive! This was all the best of sailing in the Fall wrapped into one magical moment.

Fall color at its peak.

“How lucky we are to be out here cruising in the fall,” I thought as I cracked the first egg.  I thanked the Lord for sharing this great miracle with me today instead of letting me sleep through it without a clue.  I prayed for the honor of seeing the spectacle again, and hoped that others wouldn’t let it pass them by.  But I knew it would never be exactly the same.   Then again, that’s part of the wonder of it, isn’t it?  This birth of the day is, after all, a unique event; it constitutes the beginning of life and start of all things to come.   I’ll have to see it at least one more time, just to make sure.  

This piece first appeared in similar form in Offshore Magazine, edited here for our readers and to complement original photography by Daria Blackwell. All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.

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