The first morning of 2020 I woke early, still jet-lagged from the trip from Taipei a few days earlier. I wanted to make the most of the new light — a blue-skied, below-freezing morning in winter-time Chicago. Outside, chimneys blew plumes of white from the adjacent brick buildings, and low cast shadows extended across the street and onto the bumpy outline of the snow-covered sidewalk.
As I walked, cars passed by, still ferrying late night party-goers home or to the next party somewhere, but the streets were mostly empty aside from the occasional jogger and the people handing out free coffee from a stand set up on a corner.
Now in Vienna, the days move slowly. I stay up through the night to talk to friends in different time zones and go to sleep sometime after 4 am when the sun begins to rise on each new day. The birds sing almost proudly, announcing spring and the impending summer. They seem louder now, but maybe it’s just that the traffic has mostly stopped these past few weeks. The sky appears clearer too, at least without the usual criss-crossing vapour trails left by planes overhead.
My perception has also changed, and the quiet things in the world are making themselves known again.
Those late-night early mornings have become my favorite time of day. Birdsong fills the crisp air, echoing between my terrace and the apartment building opposite. And in that transition from night to day the light changes so quickly that it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment it shifts. Overhead is an infinitely deep blue — not sky exactly, but an actual window into the outer atmosphere. I can imagine floating up and piercing through to space.
When there’s no light to hit a surface, there is nothing to give form.
In the seconds that follow, an expanding pulse of warm light from the horizon moves up, coloring the sky in a gradient that moves from red to a pale yellow, and into that deep-set blue.
But in an instant, when the sun moves up over the horizon, the colors and tones seem to shift and even flip. The darkened clouds, no longer in shadow, receive form from the warm sunlight’s reflection and seem somehow gilded. The deep blue overhead immediately awash in light—luminous.
At once the sky seems closed again, no longer a portal, more akin to the closed surface of a fresco. The birds overlap their songs and a call between two seems to become a call between hundreds—not quite in unison but something like a chorus.