Early morning delights

One of the most talked about and debated subjects amongst narrow boat owners is toilets. The discussions revolve around the different options for dealing with the unavoidable consequences of not being attached to mains sewerage and they generally end up with an agreement to disagree. If you really want to know more about such things just search any boating forum for the phrase ‘toilet type’ or ‘toilet options’ and you will have all the entertainment you require to see you through the long winter nights. I haven’t raised this subject to start a debate but rather as an explanation for my unusual morning habit.

I have taken to going for a walk around the marina just as the day is dawning, which at this time of year is about 7am. The first time I took the stroll it was to avoid using our own on board toilet and therefore reduce the frequency with which it might need emptying. That purpose now plays second fiddle to the fantastic sunrises, the setting moon and the early morning sounds of nature that accompany me on the five minute walk each way.

I don’t meet many folks at such a time and those that I do probably think that I’ve forgotten the dog, but I do get to see the day wake up whilst waking myself up at the same time. Maybe I have just been lucky so far but I haven’t walked in the rain once and I’ve seen some stunningly beautiful skies. The sight of a razor sharp crescent moon suspended against an ice blue dawn sky would be enough to take anybodies breath away but last month the planet Venus came to add a touch of bling to the show too. The sky on the last two mornings has managed to graduate from a fiery orange yellow through the most delicate shade of violet to blue. It’s a trick that as a young painter I tried, but largely failed to recreate and it has fascinated me every time I have seen it since. The closer you look and the harder it is to see how the colours blend from one to the other.

Famous work of the well known artist; Nature

These magic skies are full of birds on the move at this time of year. Thousands of geese in great geometric skeins pass noisily overhead as they make their way to their day time feeding grounds whilst large flocks of jackdaws rise from the surrounding trees filling the air with their distinctive cries and putting me in mind of squabbling children.

Pink footed geese on their feeding grounds

There are always coots, moorhens, swans and mallards on the water, already busy at this early hour watching out for movement on a boat that might indicate food is on its way. The rapid repetitive quacks of the mallards always makes me think they are laughing at something. Come to think of it maybe they are: probably that daft bloke walking to the toilets at such an unearthly hour of the day.

“Any chance of a bit of breakfast?”

The moon’s a red balloon

As with all these mad cap ideas, when the alarm went off just three hours after going to bed I questioned my sanity. Experience tells me however that once over the initial shock of getting up in the middle of the night these crazy ideas are always worth it.

The combination of a ‘super moon’ and a total eclipse of the same, coupled with a forecast for a completely cloud free sky meant that it was just one of those things that we felt we shouldn’t miss. We wrapped up in unfamiliar winter clothing and crept out of the house, conscious that our neighbours are generally sane and would, most likely, be fast asleep in bed. It already felt like a mini adventure.

The moon was startlingly bright and it was immediately evident that we had only just got up in time. The shadow of the earth had already taken a small bite out of the brilliant white sphere, the show had already started. Surrounded as we were by street lights it wasn’t the best environment to appreciate a night time eclipse so our plan was to walk out of the village onto unlit lanes to get the full impact of the spectacle. As we walked along what I have always thought of as a relatively straight road the moon swung through nearly ninety degrees revealing the true change of direction we were taking. It made me think of the early navigators, traversing seas and deserts simply by observation of the planets. Travelling with hope and courage rather than GPS and backup mobile phone.

Orion was looking down on us, his sword and belt easy to identify but the still bright moon made the fainter stars of his bow harder to pick out. Similarly we could just make out Cassiopeia and The Plough. With ninety percent of the moon still beaming down our shadows on the road were sharp and distinct, the light easily sufficient to read by. The progress of the shadow was slow and we became aware of other elements of the night. The call of birds on the nearby creek, geese from the sound of them, and the smell of the damp earth as we took to a dirt track to get further from the light pollution. If we stood still it was possible to make out the occasional rustle of a creature in the hedgerow, perhaps a hedgehog or a rabbit.  As the moon’s light was slowly stolen by the shadow of the earth so the stars became brighter and easier to distinguish. Just a trace of the milky way could be seen and Venus, low on the horizon shone brightly, a real star shaped star, as if drawn from a child’s imagination.

The final brilliant ellipse was extinguished leaving us in a new kind of shadowless darkness. The moon was now a strange red circle framed by a brighter rim and we were mesmerised as we stood and stared until the pain in our necks grew too much to bear. Naively we imagined that the shadow would clear and the moon would reappear as quickly as it had been obscured but it didn’t. We had no idea that it would remain in it’s current state for an hour or more.

My pictures were nothing like this

My pictures were nothing like this

We waited and waited but reluctantly we gave in and began to wander back towards home, constantly checking over our shoulders for a sign of change but it never came. It was as if the show had been put on pause and we didn’t have the remote control to do anything about it.

We were cold by the time we got home and astonished to find that we had been wandering the darkening lanes for two hours. That’s longer than your average feature film and as it turned out a lot more entertaining than many. We took about twenty photographs of this rare phenomenon, every one of them was rubbish. But that’s OK. The photographs would probably have ended up languishing in some forgotten folder on Google Drive never to be seen again. Whereas the memories, the experience, they will last forever and what’s more they are high definition works of art. But you will have to take my word for that of course.

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