The thinnest possible vertical sliver of yellow pulsing flame glows and dances around the open edge of the wood stove door. At this moment, the pops and crackles of dry kindling are the house's only sounds.
Check the fire: It's the first thing I do each morning. It's typically an easy, satisfying task. If we've added an all-night-log at bedtime, an expectant bed of coals will await its breakfast. If it's still dark outside, the embers will cast an unexpected light show across the living room, with shadowy surprise guests silhouetted on the walls. When the fire is cranked, an inch-long hairline crack in the stove's sturdy face looks like a faint dimple.
I open the wood stove door to create a draft that will suck the cold air from the corners of our still house. The stove sends the air across the stack of found logs before shooting it up the chimney 450 degrees hotter. The ceiling fan disperses the waves of warmth to waiting sofas and quilts below. Twenty minutes later, once it's going, I'll tamp down the back air vent, secure the wood stove handle and add a gallon of water to the cast iron pot on the stove's flat top. Interior secured, I head outside to really greet the day.
If I'm lucky, the eastern horizon has just started its own light shows. The previews—those minutes right before the sun actually takes its star turn—are my goose-bumps moments, reminding me that I am a grateful, privileged visitor. A similar yellow (and red and orange) band spreads horizontally over the nearby cornfields. If the clouds sit right, there's definition and depth, extending from the heavens toward infinity. As the sky fills with dawn, it soon vanishes. This week, the show starts a little before 7 a.m. There's no admission, no lines, no waiting, but do wear layers.
It's anything but quiet outside. The roosters are the first up, staking their turf as their crows shatter the contemplative envelope. Each day, every dawn, they're ready to tangle. In our neighborhood, they cue the sheep and cows. They start their own meandering conversations about the breakfast menu.
Finally, downshifting into the curve, lumbering and happy, coming over the rise, a herd of shiny yellow school buses complete the scene. They are empty now, white lights flashing on top like approaching beacons above their all-seeing front windshields. Still yawning, their future passengers gather their hats, gloves and backpacks.