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The morning rhythm

Sept 3, 2017

I'm most concerned about being eaten by a bear on Wednesday morning.

I'm up early to catch my 4:36 a.m. bus before dawn for every month except June and definitely before most people. Garbage bins are lined up like sentries along the roadway, partly obscured by pickup trucks, boat trailers and side by sides.

The woods behind the houses loom darkly and the feeble LED streetlights leave pools of inky darkness between their greyish white half-light. Those aren't just woods; they're the entrance to thousands of kilometres of interconnected boreal forest from here to where the landscape breaks from trees to tundra.

This morning, I'm listening particularly keenly, ears straining to hear past the woolly layer of my tuque and the swishy noise of my down jacket's sleeves rubbing against the sides as I walk briskly (from fear and cold) this late April morning to my bus stop, seven minutes of straining silence away.

I make it to the unmarked spot that I know in front of the house with the Easter decorations that never come down, somehow feeling more secure in my unsecured bus stop. I wait four minutes, as I always do, before the bus roars around the corner and the driver flashes his high beams to let me know that he saw me. Along with my fear of bears, I have an irrational fear that the bus driver won't spot me in the dark, amid the trucks and trees, and just keep on motoring. It's not irrational from the point of view that I've heard many second-hand tales of bus drivers blowing past the stop, but the consequence of not getting to work isn't the worst thing that could happen.

I settle into the half-sleep stupor that characterizes the 68-minute ride from my stop to the plant gate. I'm not really asleep but I'm also not really awake. I don't even really know if my eyes are open or closed, as I drift in the always-too-cold bus.

There are two traffic lights on the drive up. The first one is at Fort McKay, Alta., and it's not usually red, which means I don't usually notice as we sail through. The second one is eight kilometres from the plant, and we turn there, so I always come closer to consciousness as the bus slows, turns and settles into its new direction. It's always just after we turn that I enter the deepest phase of my stupor, jolting just enough as we slow through the gate to wish I had a few more hours of sleep time.

The bus's overhead light turns on, and I hear the sound of rustling as everyone straightens up and adjusts the tuques pulled over eyes and the earplugs jammed in ears. I can feel myself pulling my mind out of the molasses of wishing for sleep and figuratively dashing cold water over myself as I shake myself free from the allure of the only-now-warm-enough seat. The bus glides to a firm stop and, almost as if we were propelled up by the stopping motion, we move in a singular, graceful arc up from the seats and swing backpacks over shoulders. We flow off the bus into a gentle stream of people, trickling into the turnstiles and pushing through to the "work" side of the fenced-off bus loop.

From there, we scatter like leaves in the wind. The muddy, gravel-strewn ground breaks in clean lines with the asphalt walkways that collect and direct people to their various metal-clad buildings or temporary but permanent trailers. In April, the sun has already cracked the horizon at 5:44 a.m. when we arrive, casting a contrasting inverted pink sky, where the bottoms of the clouds are awash in ripples of pink. I choose to look up at the colours for the brief moment between the turnstile and the building.

The minutiae of these mornings are entrenched in my mind. The sameness and distinction of the rhythm and patterns. My pattern will change soon. I've accepted a job overseas, where there are no bears and no 4:36 a.m. buses. I will no longer wake up knowing it's Wednesday and I have to be vigilant because it is garbage day. I will instead have new routines and concerns, receiving their moment and then disappearing from my conscious thought. And what is most strange is that this new routine will erase all memory of this reality.

I will remember some details – the fatigue, the smell of diesel fumes in the sweet spring air – but most I will paint over with the new rhythm of my morning. It seems an odd loss to mourn, this substance-less moment in time, but knowing I'm about to lose the ability to remember this, I am deeply appreciative of each aspect. I allow myself to feel the weight of an early morning wake, to fully see the stars dotting the sharp predawn sky. I see the garbage bins starkly outlined and I try to catch hold of the feelings and the consciousness of the moment. I know I can't keep this. I can feel it ebbing like smoke through my hands. And I wonder why I am so determined to hold so fast to something so ethereal.

After my transition I will read this again; I'll remember some of the feelings and some of the sights, trying to experience them again like trying on a glove and expecting it to be your skin. These memories will sit on my mind, remembered, fitting some form that used to be there, but not able to slip into my existence as they do now. There is a lesson here, a reality and a truth that I am attempting to encircle as I tune in with increasing awareness of near loss to the full immersion of my mornings. I can't articulate it, but I will seek to bask in my final moments of minutiae and meaning, alive and aglow and extended just beyond the edges of my form.

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