A Natural History: David Bernardy


The Natural History of My Morning

Text and Art by David Bernardy

Morning Map by David Bernardy

Morning Map by David Bernardy


It begins with a sound or a pressure in the blood, a fluttering, a flicker, a snap.

Something moves, the ascent of sweet friction hoisting the self along tackle wreathed in smoke.  For some this waking is gradual, like the coming high tide with its watermark of wrack and scrawl.  They can dodge it, slip away, and roll back into the surf.  For me it comes unawares, like a talent.

I’ve woken to ocotillos shivering in the sun, woken to the face of a longhorn steer arm’s reach behind barbed wire, its prehistoric moans begging me for feed or warning me off his herd.  Last month, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, I woke to the whispered voice of my wife, who stood just outside our tent, hissing, David, a wolf.  A wolf.  And so I woke to that quick, hard stare, not hungry, just entirely wild.  It sized us up, turned back into the brush, turned again for one more look, its gaze like the beam from a magic lantern or the lifesaving sweep of a lighthouse, then, all at once, it was gone.

As a boy, I woke to the Indian River, chucked a half ripe tangerine at a sea cow and her calf as they floated lazily in the current.  I woke to turpentine and white pine, mineral spirits and the sweet whisper of my grandfather’s brush as it licked another tall letter onto a billboard or a boat.

The crunch of tires on a shell drive.

The sound of my father’s voice, David, Dutchy’s been hit, when at four in the morning, he came to my room, almost dumbstruck, holding our family’s black Sheltie, her hips crushed by the newspaper boy’s station wagon.

In all of these, there is no middle ground, no arrival gate, no transition.  I walk through a door I can’t see, find myself in a clearing full of thieving birds.

I can mark each waking on a map, each spot a red push pin, string thread between them to calculate some strange peregrination, but what of those worlds I’ve left in sleep?  What of my dreams, so rarely remembered?

I wake to a magpie.

Bird, what can your dark arrowhead of a tongue tell me about my dreams’ scattered crumbs?

Where was I a second ago?

Was I in love? Was I a killer?

Give me a warm cup and I’ll drive that sweet chariot across the sky, but leave me a seed from the other world.  Raise me an arc on the horizon and I’ll show you a pocketful of silver shine, but give me back some inkling of my night-travels.

These maps have all forgotten me and the daylight’s coming on.


David Bernardy lives wherever he can, but lately, mostly, in Greenville, South Carolina, and most happily with his wife Joni Tevis and his canine Tess Monster.



“A Natural History of My Morning” is part of the Natural Histories Project. Click here to learn more >>


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