It is that dark hour before the dawn where, with tackiness in my eyes, I try to focus on the light that slides past the drawn shade. The wall captures slivers of the stoplight and in the inbetween hours, the hours where I don’t know if I should go back to sleep or make tea, those slivers of light betray the time. The slice of light illuminating that small section of plastered wall strobes in a steady rhythm granting me the comfort of options. The stop light has yet to change from its late night blinkings to its day time self. To sleep or to move, to start the day’s projects. This hour though is my time and I will not let it pass. I find what I need and slide silently out of the room and down the hall.
The kitchen is still quiet in the predawn and I find comfort in a table, a pot of tea and the quiet. I write the time away until daylight and life filter into the room. The sunrise’s fire quickly drapes the snow covered mountains then spreads to the drabness of the early morning foothills, painting them with orange light. In front of me the small screen of an iPad glows as I sit and write. Silently I watch people move in and out, but there is enough room for all and I slowly watch My Time dissolve into the bustle of the day.
Whether the third floor kitchen of Lander’s Noble Hotel, the rough-hewn shelter at El Chalten’s El Refugio, a slowly smoldering fire in the Utah desert, or, nowadays, my sparsely appointed living room, the quiet of a morning boosts my well-being. It lends me time to be calm, to think, or to work on quiet projects in peace. While getting a jump start on the day’s task can feel good (and there is not much better than half your day’s to do list crossed off by 0900) it is the contemplative, reflective, and peaceful nature of the hour that is most valuable.
The ribbon decorating the green, faux fir wreath slaps the window as a quiet wind moves air down the valley. It is dark on the other side of the window, even the small bulbs above the sink do little more than show the back side of the holiday ornamentation outside the window. Only the lights of a church steeple across the river thwart the outer blackness. I can hear the constant, slow move of water in the river and the occasional Jake brake of semi-trucks as they grind down the hill beyond it. The dishes washed and piled high on the drying rack, I lean onto the counter and watch the light grey clouds take over the hue of the once black sky. It is early still; Mike left for work almost an hour ago so I have the kitchen to myself until Nancy winds her way through the house and down to the main floor, which I predict will be in another forty-five minutes or so. Until then, it is just me, my thermos of tea, an idea to write and the growing dawn light.
Later as I finish brewing my second pot of tea, I hear the sound of the washing machine dial being turned and the ensuing flow of water into its basin. Then, “good morning Jared” and my space and silence disappears into family time… the reason I return.
Taking the time to do the things that make me feel complete, whole, and happy can be challenging. Occasionally, due to weather, space, people, or some combination of these, quiet and aloneness is unattainable. At these times, finding that boost comes in other forms, if only sitting and watching people; an unknown in a crowd of millions. Sometimes the quiet within has to suffice and anonymity can feed that too. The 24+ hours it takes me to fly from New Zealand to Switzerland, through Brisbane, Dubai, and Auckland allow me that anonymousness. Sitting on a plane, I take My Time behind earphones, typing and thinking and wondering. Even Dubai’s glitzy international terminal can offer it; I walk through certain there is no one out there I know. Scary. Empowering. And oddly peaceful.
“Mahdu, I might miss the first bit of your class” I say, sitting in the tent doorway. Behind me, a smattering of my personal items clutter my sleeping bag and spill onto Bahrat’s sleeping pad. Besides my stuff, the large four person Hilleberg is well organized and clean.
“No problem Baba” he responds, referring to me by the nickname he has for all the guys, the Hindi equivalent of “dude.” He hands me back my Kindle and lesson plans, grabs his avalanche beacon and heads out into the hot sun that relentlessly cooks the snow covered Pindari Valley.
I reach behind me into the clutter and grab my blue ukulele case. I peel off the layers, setting them outside in a neat pile and pluck at the strings. After a few minutes of idle picking and strumming I reach back and dig out the tuner and set to work. Out of the corner of my eye I see students congregating around a schematic drawn in the snow. My mind slowly drifts away from thoughts of weather, illness and Baba Ji and gets lost in the changing icons and colors of the tuner. I pluck, watch, twist and repeat. GCEA. The uke has been my constant, heavy and bulky companion on every NOLS course I have worked since its receipt in 2012. Sometimes it comes out frequently; other times it is only sporadically seen. This Himalayan mountaineering course has been more of the latter. Pulling it out today though and giving it a few strums and plucks, along with practicing the few songs that I do know, gives me the time I need this day to refresh and rejuvenate. Though I struggle through a few pieces that I am learning, the little, red, four string instrument has again given me the peace I need to move through the day.
Friends and coworkers have often mentioned the inability to find personal time when working NOLS courses. “How do you keep going?”or “where do you find the time for yourself?”I am frequently asked. It is the small moments of playing the ukulele or being the first one in the kitchen to cook breakfast or wandering slowly back from a cathole visit that provide My Time. It is micromoments with beauty and silence that fill that void. It is My Time, it just isn’t very long.
Living alone, one could surmise that I have “My Time”all the time. Buying a house though hasn’t really changed anything. I have hermit tendencies and a seemingly endless list of things to get done. Regardless, the morning is still My Time. It is still the time in which anything is possible. A time when thoughts run rampant, dreams slowly fade and realities take shape. It is a time, when, with chai masala in a handcrafted mug, I sit and blend the two; I solidify ideas, put vision on paper, and give pause to appreciate my space.
Featured Image: Sometimes My Time happens in the crowded international terminals… this one in Buenos Aires