Early in the morning is another country: because the world has not yet begun to turn.

Here, when we are on the flight path for Heathrow, it is signalled by a huge, asthmatic jumbo jet which we hypothesise is a freight carrier. How it stays up in the air as it hauls its great metal carcass at a couple of hundred miles an hour, is beyond me.

It wheezes noisily over at about 5:30. And if it’s a work day, I listen and long to be in it, heading for Anywhere Else. And if it’s a holiday or a weekend, I lie and consider the King’s Ransom I possess in terms of time. I am a niggardly miser with my time. I become Fagin counting his temporal treasures.

Even the birds have not begun to sing when the great metal eagle passes over. It grumbles on its way and I wait.

The early morning is before it starts. If one does something then, it is laced with magic. The cares of yesterday have slipped away like water down a weir, and those of the day have not yet arrived.

Not all of us are made for early mornings. According to a study published by the University of Surrey’s Dr Simon Archer in Sleep, the journal of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, there is a gene which dictates whether you love early mornings or late nights.

One can’t, it seems, have both.

The gene is called, prosaically, Period Three. If  it’s long, you’re an early morning person. If it’s short, you’re a night owl.

The dawn is used in all manner of ways by the greatest of our storytellers. Take Charles Dickens, consummate picture-painter: for him dawn is so often a watershed.

In a Tale of Two Cities, the man who took care of the Marquis’s business, Monsieur Gabelle, spent a long night watching his master’s château burn and listening to the angry shouts of villagers outside his barred door.

If the door were broken in, he decided he would throw himself off the parapet and squash a few in the street below.

Dickens writes: “A trying suspense, to be passing the whole Summer night on the brink of the black ocean, ready to take with it that plunge into it upon which Monsieur Gabelle had resolved!

“But, the friendly dawn appearing at last, and the rush-candles of the dawn guttering out, the people happily dispersed,  and Monsieur Gabelle came down, bringing his life with him for that while.”

Oliver Twists’s Nancy is vehemently promised a new future by the gentleman who is so desperate for the little boy’s safety.

He tells her: “Before the dawn of morning, before this river wakes to the first glimpse of daylight, you shall be placed as entirely beyond the reach of your former associates, and leave as utter an absence of all trace behind you, as if you were to disappear from the earth this moment.”

Dawn as watershed is an age-old device: it is used in a story which is about two thousand years old.

So: the charismatic leader and teacher everyone loved has had a terrible turn of fortune. He is dead, and the golden few who were close to him are scattered and terrified.

The manner of his going was inhuman and gruesome. No-one wants the same to happen to them. The men and women he knew are in fight-or-flight mode: they are thinking no further than how to save their own skins after the heartbreaking debacle of their leader’s execution.

It had happened on Friday. Throughout Saturday, they lay low.

The dawn had cleared Mary’s mind a little, the story goes. Her friend’s body lay in a rock tomb donated by a well-wisher, blocked in and unanointed, neglected.

If I go early, she thought, the world will not yet have begun to turn.

The soldiers will not be out of bed, the tomb will be free of security. I could take a pot of ointment. I could be close to him this last time.

She set out in the fresh early cool of the morning, terrified of meeting someone who would recognise her; but cloaked by this early hour.

But when she got there, the tomb had been robbed. The stone was rolled away, and there were bandages on the floor: but there was no sign of the body.

The gardener wandered up, and asked why she was crying and she said: Please, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him.”

And then he said:”Mary.”

One word, one familiar tone of voice, and the world regained its colour. Because, the story goes, it was her friend: and he appeared well.

Of all the strange stories in all the rafts of literature on our blue planet, this one has our philosophers in knots. It is powerful story which uses dawn as the watershed in the history of a people.

The secular world still nods to that early morning moment: there was Before Christ, and then there was afterwards.

Every day, the world turns anew: and though we can watch the revolving globe on Google Earth, the wonder of the new day never ceases to offer new possibilities.

It is a natural watershed.


32 thoughts on “Watershed

  1. What a natural writer you are. I love your segues.

    One small thing – I don’t think they were lying low: it was the Sabbath, so they couldn’t do anything.

    Don’t you love that it was the women who were there first while the men were back home fretting?

    1. I do, Tilly 🙂 They were there at all the most important moments, weren’t they?
      Too right about the Sabbath-everything stops for this day of rest. But there was also this sense, during these early confused days, of being in hiding. Huddles in upper rooms and so forth. I love the haphazardness of these moments. Such potential energy.

      1. We talked about the Saturday while we were preparing our church’s easter breakfast – thinking that as awful as Friday was, what must that Saturday have been? The day when the horror of it all sinks in and everyone wonders, “now what?” It must have been dismal.

        Which is why the music on that Sunday morning as we celebrate is full of brass fanfare!

  2. Wonderful recounting, Kate.
    Dawn has a magic to it . . . even for night owls like me.

    Thanks for the nod at Dickens’ world and words. 😀

  3. Perfectly wonderful, Kate! Thank you for such an inspired an inspiring post. In our Pastor’s wonderful sermon today he used the old Yogi Berra quote, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over!” So true. As Mary new her “Rabboni” from his calling her name, the two men on the road to Emmaus came to recognize him in the breaking of the bread. The account of their memory of the walk they took together with that “stranger” is among my very favorite: “Didn’t our hearts burn within us, as he opened up the scriptures. . .” That had to be the greatest Bible lesson in history!

    Since, in effect, every morning is Easter morning, it’s important to hang on until tomorrow, and wait for those watershed moments in our own personal histories.

    1. What a wonderful comment, Paula 🙂 I love Acts and the Letters. Such an energy about them, and a wonderful unpredictability. I love it when they’re cooking fish on the shore and Jesus eats. A real human touch.

  4. brilliantly spun, Kate…I had no idea where you were going with this one, but I’m so glad I continued along..
    as an aside, now I wish to know, early bird or night owl writer?

    1. By choice, early bird, Angela: but a with the kids I have to write when the opportunity arises, in snatches during the day. Tonight I wrote very late and that’s not characteristic. I just found myself unable to leave it half finished…


  5. Kate, at the risk of “going on” – you must have inherited my early bird tendencies.

    How about this – waking up in the forest


    Four o’clock!
    Light begins to show
    through the thin walls
    of my orange house
    in the forest.
    Silence, all around,
    wraps the sleeping landscape
    like a blanket
    from the darkness
    Earth prepares
    for the coming
    of the Sun.
    The silence waits.

    Shrill, strident
    comes the first call
    of the singing thrush,
    soaring, trilling high
    Shattering the silence
    To be joined by others
    until the forest is filled
    with an energy of song
    raised in celebration,
    hailing the glad return
    of the new day.

    The silence is broken
    but, still intact, it waits
    behind the gladsome noise.
    Hidden and unperceived
    like our God, who speaks there
    watching, loving
    shepherding his creation
    into growth and life
    And should not we too
    lift our voice in praise
    of Him who created us
    with voice for that very purpose (copyright John Ellerton)


      1. Is that ‘John Ellerton’ the hymn writer and hymnologist? Or does your Dad share his name, Kate?

    1. Dear Kate’s Dad:

      Please start your own poetry blog! I know lots of people would love to read your work. Kate has a large following, but more people would see your work if you posted on your own site!

      This poem is beautiful, and evocative of the dawning – not just of a day, but of all creation. Thanks so much for sharing this with those of us who read the comments. Kate is one of those writers who makes one want to read every single word on her page – even all the comments, because she is so good about responding back, and always has fun or pithy things to say in reply!

      Now I know where Kate gets her talent! So glad you shared this poem.

      1. Paula Thanks for your kind comments.
        I don’t blog these poems because I am a Catholic, and I feel the poems are of limited appeal.
        Most of them have a strongly religious theme, and others may not want to hear them.

        So it is great when someone likes one of my poems.

        Thanks again. John.

      2. Dear John:

        My, this sounds like a “Dear John letter!” Oh!, wait! It is! 😀

        Ahem. . .Dear John:

        The great thing about blogs is that they are your own. A blog is a place to write how you feel and share with others your own thoughts, beliefs, and your faith! The blogosphere is not a unilateral universe, but a multi-multi- lateral one! There are always going to be people who won’t like what you have to say, or won’t agree with you. But there will always be just as many who do love what you say and how you say it, and there is always the possibility that, if you put yours words of faith out there, someone who needs to read what you have written will be changed for the better by your words.

        I too am a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. I do not write a specifically “Christian” blog but I do hope that my faith is evident in how and what I write. I have a very dear blog-friend who disagrees with a lot of my own beliefs. We have a wonderful time, sharing back and forth our feelings about God and faith versus religion, etc. While neither of us have been suaded one way or the other by our “arguments,” we both have come to a much clearer understanding of where the other comes from! That’s a step in the right direction! Communication like ours would go a long way toward fostering world peace!

        In any event – write to express yourself, and let the chips fall where they may. God can and will make use of whatever you write. And if only one person reads your blog (that will be me!), it will definitely be enough. . .

  6. I really don’t know why I like this post so much – my Period Three gene is so short as to be invisible. Dawns are phenomena I very seldom see, and never by design.

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