BIG STORIES about little things – Namib sunrise

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Namibia: 2013 summer bird wetland count reflects dry conditions
March 18, 2013
Did you know: Unknown islands off Africa
March 20, 2013

This is the eighteenth article in a series by Joh Henschel of EnviroMEND about the Namib Desert. Its wonders have many forms, some of which are tiny, easily overlooked creatures, and everyday processes such as sunrise.

Photographs Joh Henschel

As a boy, my mother primed me for experiencing sunrises.


As organist at the local church, she would take me along for her predawn practice. I turned the pages, or was allowed melodious walking over the organ’s foot-pedals while she mastered the manuals and forest of draw stops.

Our secret favourite at this early hour was jointly playing Max Drischner’s Sun Hymn, a masterful musical sketch rising from barely audible to barely bearable, played while the sun’s first rays reached through the open window of the church. This experience is indelibly etched in my mind.

Years later I sensed that the Sun Hymn has its fitting home in the Namib. Here, a little everyday experience, as common as sunrise, becomes a big story, a special primordial experience. I penned these lines after a Namib sunrise:


Gently the light of the quarter moon strokes the vastness of the landscape,

as the faint earliest glimmer of predawn brightens the night due east.

The first pianissimo notes whisper the pre-announcement of changes to come,

the static crisp atmosphere is steeped in anticipation, cool, clean, fresh.


The eastern brightening is confirmed with a mellifluous kiss of light,

the pale patch expands into the starry sky, which blinks its diminishing farewell.

The whispering notes are punctuated by the first tender pitching of a soft piccolo,

while the still air is pregnant with moisture, poised to give rise to dew.


The moon begins to give way, now accompanied by only a few diehard stars,

as the veiled curtain of pale light is gradually drawn right across the sky.

The first notes of melody are announced in the embrace of whispered harmony,

dew can wait no longer, freeing the air of its damp load, forming dangling drops.


Night retreats, bidding farewell with a last grey shadow to the west,

and dawn announces its arrival with the assertive brightening of the dome.

By now the flute melody is definite, supported by clear harmony in mezzo-piano,

with faint flickering sparkles of swinging dew baubles taking over from the stars.


The last star flickers its lingering diminuendo in the now-bluing sky,

as the east is brushed with pale yellow, indicative of something big to follow.

The theme is repeated with more volume and a murmur of deep base,

as gentle tentative puffs of a cool breeze wave ribbons of freshness.


The takeover is nearly complete and the moon is now hardly noticeable,

it is certain that day is on its way with the eastern yellow brightening to a glare.

The theme goes through crescendo variations as the orchestra prepares its forte,

the breeze wafts steadily, though mellow, just enough for dew to shiver.


The wide bulging tip of the sun breaches the silhouette of the stark black horizon,

the first stabbing sunrays chase the last shadows of night out of all realms of the sky.

There we have it again, the first melody, but now quite certainly sturdy in forte,

the dew-spangled landscape brightens its glitter, replacing lost stars bottom-up.


The entire huge ball of fire has crossed the threshold and casts off the horizon,

dawn gives way to day as the sun dominates the immense bright-blue ocean of sky.

All music is now fully vivace fortissimo, the melody is engulfed by pure harmony,

and the pristine day brings on goose-bumpy surges of clean-slated renewal.

This article was originally published in the March 2013 Flamingo magazine (Air Namibia's in-fligt magazine). 


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