It was cold. Really cold. Like single digit cold. Still, I was itchy to get out and photograph a sunrise. I was overdue for a weekend photo foray. Friday’s snow still clung to the trees, and it was sure to be a beautiful morning, even if the sunrise was muted. I bundled up and set out, heading south to a beach I rarely visit.
I arrived at the beach about 15 minutes before sunrise. A few rocks rose above the surf, drawing my eye. I watched the waves lift and swell around them. The interwoven patterns left on the sand by the receding tide picked up the early light, glowing. Small depressions of frozen salt water crackled with geometric shapes and crunched beneath my boots. The clouds clung low to the horizon, like a steel grey mountain range. Walking the shore, watching the colors shift in the sky, I felt myself relax into the rhythm of the morning.
As the day slowly lightened, I noticed wisps of sea smoke forming above the water. Even though my toes were going numb, I started grinning. Sea smoke is one of the most amazing gifts of winter. It forms when very cold air flows over relatively warmer seawater. Less dense than typical fog, it disperses easily with the slightest breeze. Today was calm enough and certainly cold enough. I prepared for the show. Sure enough, as the sun crept above the banks of clouds, I could see more and more sea smoke tendrilling above the water.
Then, as day broke, the air and waves gradually transformed to molten gold.
I stood, transfixed, for moment after moment after moment. Thankful. Reverent.
Experiences like this move me deeply. They ripple through me and lift me. I both lose and find myself, saturated in wonder.
After a long while, reality intruded. The deep growing ache in my fingers and toes sent me heading reluctantly back in the direction of the car. Even though I was hurting, I still struggled to pull myself away from the ever changing scene.
“Just one more picture,” I thought, again and again.
Eventually, I made it back to my car. The pain in my feet had become insistent at this point. I turned up the heat, blasting my boots with warmth, then drove along slowly, still lost in the glory of the morning.
Before too long, driving past a local land trust, I noticed the gleam and glow of snow and the silhouette of a favorite tree. Making a snap decision, I pulled into a convenient driveway, turned around, and headed back to the small parking lot.
“Molly, you are crazy,” I thought, as my toes throbbed in rebuke. “You’re going to permanently damage your feet.”
“It’s okay,” I reassured myself. “I’ll just take a photo or two.”
Parking quickly, I stepped out of the warm car into the freezing cold morning once again.
Walking through the snow, trying to get better lighting for my photo, I glanced down at the glimmering weeds and stopped in my tracks. What!? My mouth dropped. I crouched low to the ground, forgetting my aching toes for the moment. All along the snow, miniature forests of frost rose.
“Hoar frost!” I whispered.
It was as if I’d discovered a treasure chest of sparkling jewels. The moist air, combined with the bitter cold, had created an amazing winter wonderland. Everywhere I looked was enchantment. I moved giddily from branch to weed to berry, wondering at the intricate beauty all around me. Bedazzled and bewitched and beyond grateful. Again, I felt that lift. That buoyancy of spirit.
When I finally got back in the car, I was soaked through and my feet throbbed mercilessly. Still, I remained slightly stunned and totally awestruck. I kept thinking I might have missed all of this. I could have stayed home. I could have driven by. But I didn’t, and there was magic to be found.
Such mornings are the closest I come to euphoria.