Sunrise over Skagit Gorge

North Cascades, Washington

The predawn air was crisp and cold as I reached to unzip the door of my tent. Looking out, the light was dim and uncertain and I struggled with the notion of rolling back into my warm sleeping bag and easy slumber. Slowly, a tepid, filtered light began to reflect off high clouds in the east. Shadows faded and the sound of the wind through the trees began to gradually diminish. Then all at once, the light changed dramatically. A wave of color swept overhead, and I suddenly found myself lunging out of the tent gazing skyward. My pulse jumped as I ran and scurried up a small knob nearby, giddy with anticipation.

The clear blues of early dawn were receding quickly now and a truly astonishing light was falling from the sky. It seemed somehow to accumulate, slowly and steadily, not unlike a misty rain or a light snowfall, and rendered the landscape unusually luminous. The air itself seemed to emanate light; glowing before me as if each molecule possessed its own translucent hue. It engulfed everything: the rocks, the trees, the heather, my own body. A watery ocean of orange air, I could almost touch it.

Random wafts of pungency in the slow morning breeze filled my nostrils like strong coffee and revealed the forest fire origin of the dense, misty haze filling the deep valley below me and perhaps, of particulates in the air radiating this otherworldly light. Rising above the haze, the blocky summit crown of the Trapezoid punctuated a distant horizon dividing the orange and yellow of morning from the deep blues of twilight. An amphitheater audience of weathered Mountain Hemlocks stood in seeming celebration before the dawn spectacle. With flourishing, tousled limbs they danced a greeting and reached for light. Joyously, I took my place among them, and raised my hand.