A journal of travels

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June 29th, 2010 · No Comments · Time and Place

In this excerpt from his novel, Simia, John Joss describes the dawn at Ayers Rock, held sacred by aboriginal people in Australia as Uluru. An inselberg is a monolithic mountain or rock formation arising from a surrounding plain.

The instant he turned off the engine, the Outback’s immense silence seeped back to engulf them. He got down without a word, followed by the other two.

The sound of slamming doors seemed sacrilege in the stillness surrounding them. Three pairs of night-adapted eyes turned west in unison toward the inselberg just becoming visible through the gloom, ten miles away to the west across the scrub-covered desert floor.

The bulk of it assaulted the mind, though the newcomers could only guess at its full extent. In the gray pre-dawn darkness, it too was gray, but in subtle contrast to the sky, like the immense curved back of some indescribably large, subterranean whale, as if it were leaping up and breaking the surface of the desert floor, reaching for air and light from the depths of the earth. Over a mile long and 1,000 feet high, it loomed in the gloom like a massive spaceship. Its curved flanks seemed, in the still limited visibility, to be smooth, almost artificial.

As dawn started to break, the great sea monster of rock, displaying its enormous arched back, started to change color. The rising sun, still below the horizon behind them, was casting energy in shafts of illumination across the cloudless sky high above them, far above the Rock. Its photons were interacting subtly with the atmosphere, refracting onto the Rock and returning to their eyes in a physics experiment occurring at the speed of light, involving the sun.

Initially the gray form was tinged with phosphorescence, as the grains in the sandstone gathered and then scattered the diffused dawn radiance from high above, photons not yet visible on the ground. The cast now was of a deep purplish glow, but the observers’ eyes and brains could neither integrate nor discriminate the changes fast enough. The Rock was changing dynamically in milliseconds. It seemed almost to pulsate, to grow as they watched. Now the purple tint shifted subtly until it became a luminous lilac, now a warm, dusky hue for which no description existed either in language or memory. As the light level gained intensity, instant by instant, the Rock’s aura was becoming reddish, stunningly bright against the still dark, blue-gray desert and sky behind it, to the west, where the sun’s rays had not yet reached. Daybreak was close: as they watched, the most spectacular change of all came over Ayers Rock.

As the orange ball of the rising sun peered finally over the eastern horizon behind them, the first direct light rays struck the top of the inselberg in a searing horizontal band of light. To the observers, the impression was of an eruption, the instantaneous attainment of very high temperature that caused the Rock’s crest to flare with bright orange light of almost molten appearance.

As fast as they could accommodate this new change, the illuminated band grew and grew, expanded and extended, down and down, marching magnificently. In a space of perhaps two minutes, the entire dazzling device stood, billions of tons of sandstone, illuminated in blazing orange-red before their eyes.

Now the red pigmentation shifted as the sun’s rays, traversing the atmosphere at shallow angles altering rapidly, modulated their impingement and simultaneously modified their intensity and color. Red shifted to orange, then coral. Now the coral glow became more intense yet paler.

Uluru, The Holy Place, finally lay before them in broad daylight, still changing chromaticity. No description on earth, no words, no photograph, no motion picture, regardless of screen size and authenticity, could have prepared the first-time visitors for this sight. It was an experience beyond words.
© John Joss, 2010. John Joss is the author of a trilogy comprised of the novels Lulu, Chameleon, and Simia, as well as Sierra, Sierra (Morrow), a novel about the world of soaring, and other works of fiction and non-fiction. He lives in Northern California.

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