A View from the Top


Gordon Cherr,


“Put a candle in the window, but I feel I’ve got to move
Though I’m going, going, I’ll be coming home soon,
‘Long as I can see the light.”*

I am ambling along the Atlantic Beach in the dark. Not totally in the dark. The stars are shining in utter profusion away from the obtrusive city lights. I knew that if I got out early, really early, that I could run along the beach for as long as I wanted, in the dark, alone. It is almost pitch black out, like most mornings when I run during the work week. But I know that with enough starlight, I can see the swash. And I can. It marks that line between the Atlantic Ocean and the beach, that tidal, phases of the moon, ever changing, shifting, never the same twice, never, ever, line that guides my southern journey along the beach in the dark.

It is too early for the shellers, the fishermen, the stray dogs, even the shore birds. Too early for the other runners, of which there are so few on this beach. Many prefer to run the parallel beach roads. That is inexplicable. Not too early for me, though. I do almost all of my runs during the week in the dark. Start in the dark, finish in the dark. I have learned the stars, the constellations, the planets, and watch their annual journey across the night sky as the seasons change.

It started with the three stars that I always noticed. Nearly in a straight line, pointing northeast to southwest, sort of. Not perfectly but perfectly enough. If I saw those stars I always knew where I was. Sort of. As if any one of us really knows where we are in this life. I jokingly called them The Three Sisters. Finally, some years later with my curiosity getting the better of me, I found out that they are actually named The Three Sisters. They are the three bright stars of Orion’s belt. Some societies call them The Three Kings. And they have been my guides for so many years now on these predawn journeys. Me and doubtlessly untold generations who preceded us on this earth. Continuity.

I see them, my peaceful beacons in the night. Did my father see them? Did his father? Or the 200 generations of humans who preceded us here, did they see them? It is my epiphany in the dark, to realize that we, you and me, are here because of total coincidence. On continents that have inched along over the surface of the earth for unknown millennia, by plate tectonics, superimposed on a spinning globe, rotating around a tiny sun, in a galaxy ever expanding through a universe of incomprehensible proportions.

The sound of the ocean is hypnotic in the dark. We running humans are visual creatures. Running on sound and not so much on sight is an interesting if not a somewhat unsettling experience. The horizon to the east has begun to slowly take on an almost imperceptible slight pink hue. I pay it little heed at first. The pink becomes a bit darker, then a slight ruddy hue replaces the pink. Then a slightly brighter red, there is no doubt about it.

There are, quite suddenly, a few other people on the beach. Where did they come from(?), I had felt so removed from the rest of the human race, out here on my solo journey. They are all standing at attention, facing east. No talking, no movement, solitary individual souls like me. What is going on? My run becomes a jog, my jog becomes a walk, my walk . . . a young woman grabs me by the shoulders and forcefully turns me to look out at the horizon. The willets and sanderlings have stopped running and are standing together at attention. All facing the same way.

The reddish horizon is now red…orange…brighter…a tinge of green…then the tiniest sliver of yellow. Marvelous yellow, breathtaking yellow, fiery yellow, more and more until it is unmistakable. The world has stopped. The sun has started its perfect ascent into the heavens. I feel its kind warmth upon my face. In the innermost reaches of my consciousness, I hear the far away blaring of horns.

Why am I holding my breath? Was I holding my breath? I let out an enormous sigh of relief and turn to look at the others who have also borne witness.

The beach is deserted.
“Guess I’ve got that old trav’lin’ bone,
’cause this feelin’ won’t leave me alone.
But I won’t, won’t be losin’ my way, no, no
‘Long as I can see the light.”*

*Long as I Can See The Light, John C. Fogerty.