“Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
I stopped for gas, downtown, stuck in my credit card, and the blasted pump wouldn’t work. No one was working because it was just after five a.m., the sky dark except for a swelling belly of light in the east—which meant it was time to get moving.
I tried another pump. Nothing. I was losing time. I glanced east, where the broad reach of light kept eating up sky.
Jumped back in the Tracker and headed for another gas station. Pumps worked, thank goodness.
Just outside of town, it was clear that some of my possibilities for the morning had already faded. I’d wasted too much time trying to get gas to get me out to the hills. Where was I headed anyway—other than west? Don’t know. Okay, I figured, gamble. Don’t settle for the tried and true places—been there, done that. You can’t get out to the mother lode spots anymore because you started too late, so just scout around. Maybe you’ll get lucky. One of those crap-shoot mornings.
I crossed the river, then turned left at the edge of the hills on the west bank of the Big Sioux, down a river valley road surrounded by cottonwoods. I’d never been there before, maybe twenty miles from home. All those trees made were pretty enough and rare on the Plains, but there was no view of the dawn, and it was impossible not to notice that the world itself was brightening. In the middle of trees, I needed no headlights.
A mile and a half down, a gravel road took off west up the slope of the hill, still surrounded by trees. I knew I had to get up top somehow—that’s where the action was. A yellow sign warned about turns—a squiggly arrow. I gunned it anyway, kept waiting for the inevitable break in the trees.
And finally I got there, no one around but a bunch of pastured cows that spooked the moment I pulled over in the Tracker. I got out, stuck the camera in the tripod, and started tromping through the wet grass to the spot I thought best.
Before me the river valley opened into a cloudless dawn, but the temperatures had dropped low enough to create mist that lay over the land like gossamer. Between those sheets of wispy fog, the banks of trees and everything else far beyond, that entire broad landscape before me—twenty or thirty miles of it —was all bronze and buttery.
My pant legs were soaked in minutes. I put down the tripod and started shooting. And then he came, that bold bridegroom of Psalm 19, rising slowly into the world at my footsteps, his livery so resplendent it was blinding. If there was more beauty somewhere between me and home at that moment, I don’t know where it would have been. Jackpot.
When I got back to my basement, I unloaded the pictures. None of them were as resplendent as I thought they should be. But that’s okay. None of them were as magnificent as the dawn, and I’d been there.
For me, “numbering our days” means treasuring beauty, being reminded, as often as I can, of a creation so immense it simply won’t fit in my camera.
For me, God almighty feels most imminent in the temple of the natural world in my neighborhood. My days are numbered, and valued, by witnessing him in his glory.