The unexpected joys of dawn’s early light

Ken Sikes is one of six reader columnists for The News Tribune.
Ken Sikes is one of six reader columnists for The News Tribune. dperine@thenewstribune.com

Waking up is hard to do, and never more so than on a cold, dark morning.

I felt especially lethargic one morning last week when the day ahead was full of “to dos,” “haven’t dones” and “don’t want to think abouts.”

It was cold and dark and windy, only a rainy horseman shy of the apocalypse. I’d likely have gone straight to breakfast if not for my dog. What’s that bumper sticker prayer? “Lord help me be the person my dog thinks I am.”

There is no amount of darkness or morning chill that dampens her enthusiasm for getting out the door.

So I laced up my shoes, grabbed the leash and headed our six feet out into the dark. I have a regular route: east on 70th then north on Wapato Street until I reach Wapato Hills Park.

You would think icy wind would be enough to wake me up, but even after a mile I remained groggy, my mind and body struggling to come to terms with what I was doing.

The sign at the corner of the park, barely readable under the street lights, reminded me that the park wouldn’t be here if not for Skip and Laura Vaughn. I nodded my thanks for their generous gift as I passed.

Mile two began at the base of Wapato Hill. Fifteen years ago, when we moved to South Tacoma, the path to the top was just a service road. Now pea gravel lines a one-mile loop. I huffed slowly to the top, at one point stepping on the rotting deposits of a wild apple tree, no other signs of life beside the occasional pile of coyote scat.

I know people occasionally sleep there, but I also believe 6:30 a.m. isn’t a common time for assaults. Plus, who’s gonna mess with a guy with a vicious springer spaniel at his side?

We crossed the first of a pair recently built footbridges over bogs that used to drench my shoes, and I continued to shake off the cobwebs. By the next bridge my joints were beginning to loosen and dark shapes were starting to have color.

The pace of my breathing fell in synch with my stride, every other crunch of gravel accompanying an inhale or exhale.

Below and off my right shoulder were the lights of South Tacoma, artificial and ordered. The steeple of Visitation Catholic stretched the dark skyline.

Though I was growing more alert, the sleep was only partly out of my eyes when I rounded the corner to face east and it dawned on me. I mean that literally. Darkness faded and dawn was upon me. Colors and light rose from below like billowing cotton candy, chasing the fading indigo night higher into the sky.

It was as if someone sliced a ruby red grapefruit and squeezed its color onto the horizon. I was in slack-jawed awe. A voice I couldn’t have stopped if I’d wanted began rising in my throat, “Come on!” I shouted, causing my dog to jerk around and stare.

“Bring it!” I continued to run and shout. My exclamations were somewhere between Lieutenant Dan and George Bailey; part challenging God from the mast of a shrimp boat and another part running through Bedford Falls shouting “Merry Christmas” to the old building and loan.

I don’t know if it was protest or praise, but I skipped right over awake and into wide-eyed alert. I was an odd rooster to anyone trying to sleep in that park.

What goes up must eventually come down. Eventually the shouting ceased and we followed the familiar route out of the park.

We now ran west, heading the same direction the sun would set in only a few hours.

Ken Sikes is a South Tacoma resident and pastor of Manitou Park Presbyterian Church. He is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. He can be reached at kwsikes@gmail.com.