Walk me out in the morning dew
It might look as if a crystalline counterpane has settled over the lawn, but, as Antony Woodward explains, the glistening morning dew heralds a glorious day
The glistening morning dew heralds a glorious day, says an enraptured Antony Woodward
GETTING up early, for its own sake, is an adventure: the quiet dressing, the stealing downstairs, stepping over creaking treads, the oddly intense sense of secret purpose. ‘When I unlocked the door into the garden the early morning air met me with its cold purity,’ wrote Siegfried Sassoon, of his 13-year-old alter ego George Sherston, in Memoirs
of a Fox-hunting Man. ‘The scarlet disc of the sun had climbed an inch above the hills. Thrushes and blackbirds hopped and pecked busily on the dew-soaked lawn, and a pigeon was cooing monotonously from the belt of woodland which sloped from the garden toward the Weald.’
Sassoon reminds us that the still, solitary, meditative spell that comes before the full-blown, stick-twirling ‘Oh, what a beautiful morning!’ stage is
a strictly holistic sensual experience. The full effect requires all attendant circumstances: cloudless sky, long shadows and that steadily warming light that cinematographers call the ‘magic hour’. And, of course, dew.
Dew is the essence: crystalline, pellucid, limpid, evanescent. From a distance, it’s as if a white counterpane has settled across the lawn and meadows, softly blurring night and day, romance and reality, then and now. What you actually see is the eye’s merged impression of sunshine bouncing off millions of tiny water droplets.
Crossing the lawn a few childish kicks are in order ‘to scatter round you, as you lightly pass/a shower of diamonds, from each blade of grass’ (C. R. Benstead). Footprints leave a trail, as in blown sand or snow.
‘On the gray moisture of the grass were marks where the cows had lain through the night—dark-green islands of dry herbage the size of their carcasses, in the general sea of dew,’ wrote Thomas Hardy in Tess of the
d’urbervilles. ‘From each island proceeded a serpentine trail, by which the cow had rambled away to feed.’
Every tilt of the head now, as the sun brightens, brings different droplets into your eyeline, spilling relays of flashes and gleams. ‘Orbits measureless are furl’d/in that frail and fading sphere,’ wrote Shelley, each luminous drop ‘a whole heaven within it,’ said Longfellow. And all for you alone! If there’s a joy to eclipse the marvel before you, it’s surely that so many others are missing it? Let the fools snore! This sight is for the chosen alone. Heavens, is that a halo around your shadow’s head? Indeed, it is. With the sun behind you, unmistakably, around the head of your shadow, there’s a strange brightness. Known as Heiligenschein, or ‘holy glow’, this is caused when, with the sun directly behind you, the dewdrops in front of you act like tiny lenses, focusing its rays onto the surface on which they sit then firing them back—creating a halo because dewdrops are not quite spherical.
Although you can see your halo, however, others cannot, just as you cannot➢
‘Every tilt of the head, as the sun brightens, brings different droplets into your eyeline
Bejewelled with dew: early-morning cobwebs adorn the common at Strensall, North Yorkshire