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Early Rising

Catching sunrise was part of my childhood education. My father was cognizant with the proverb, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” and he used it as a family mantra. Waking while the sky scintillated shades of saffron was imbued with every virtue imaginable. Naturally I resisted, certain that late night revels were better than dawn perambulations. I became a twilight worshipper, instead; enthralled with the descending incandescence, the kindling of scattered celestial bodies, the realization I was a speck of cosmic dust connected to an infinite universe of unknowable properties. At university I forsook the brusque chill of daybreak for the pleasures of nocturnal pursuits: midnight parties, two am snack runs, insomniac chats. Sometimes these sessions led to witnessing a new sun peeping over the horizon, but as a matter of accident not intent. 

My first premeditated sunrise occurred on a visit to Acadia National Park in Maine. Cadillac Mountain sits along the northern Atlantic as the peak to receive first light in the United States. From its summit the dotted harbor islands swell to silhouetted drops against a mauve mist. The lichen covered granite slope blushes at sight of the ascending sun. Watching the morning awaken upon this precipice was akin to being present at earth’s creation. It gave me a taste for dawn rising I never quite abandoned. Camping trips later cemented the glories of early mornings. Sleeping al fresco forces the body to shift into nature’s rhythm. The result is rewarding — tranquility without eldritch overtones. I wake to the twitter of winged greeters while the fragrance of bedewed leaves trembles in the air. Rustlings in the bush affirm that other creatures are busily starting their day. There is hope in a sunrise that cannot be found at sunset.

My travel life has accustomed me to the red-rimmed sun peeking over the horizon, bathing cities, shores, and mountain tops. Yet, the more dawns I experience the more I treasure them. I have come full circle waxing lyrical about the benefits of early rising, recommending its productivity benefits to sundry, quoting Aristotle and Ben Franklin aphorisms. My family would be proud.

Lately, watching an orange orb slip past the silver Pacific in southern California I admonished an intractable teenage companion. “The early bird catches the worm,” I said to her when she grumbled about getting up at an “unholy hour.” As the words were crisply spewing out of my mouth with the same smug inflection my father used when speaking the phrase, I realized early rising isn’t the only thing I have been emulating from my parents. The week before I cringed when I blurted out two of their pet expressions in conversation. I had sworn an oath in my youth to never utter “in my day,” and “you don’t mean that,” to anyone. Now I had put them into a sentence. I catch myself imitating many of their mannerisms, gestures I could not stand growing up: cracking knuckles while watching a movie, washing and saving resealable plastic bags for later use, retelling stale anecdotes. A nightmare I wished to evade has arrived — I have turned into my parents!

Genetically speaking, I suppose it was bound to happen. Culturally and philosophically, however, it was a shock. A large portion of my existence was avoiding anything they enjoyed while embracing the things they shunned, convincing myself I was nothing like them. Experience and life, of course, have changed my tune. Personal characteristics and my parents’ dispositions have mingled into a somewhat oddball glob. In the meantime, my youthful élan has given way to maturer apprehensions as surely as dawn accedes to dusk. These terrors, the same my parents had, are a waste of time. I know that as my younger self knew it, but I comprehend better why they exist, why my parents were burdened with them. In partially behaving like them, in becoming them, I understand my parents better too. They have altered from incomprehensible law-givers and flawed protectors into humans struggling to survive, to find joy, to inspire others.

I could mourn the inevitable, recoil at the profligacy with which their habits have overtaken my life. I could keep a sharp lookout for the next time I set my jaw like my father or pinch my nostrils in disgust like my mother. I can vow not to leave dirty napkins underneath the sofa. I can be certain I’ll never wear turtlenecks in the spring. I can laugh at their foibles, telling myself how odd and so not like me my progenitors are. Heredity will out, though. On the other hand, I could let it gloriously unfold. After all, getting up early to watch the sun is a privilege I am happy to have inherited. The extra hour of contemplation it provides, the way it uplifts the weary spirit — I know why my father enjoyed viewing sunrises, just as he predicted I would someday seek them out for myself.

I feared becoming more like my parents would obliterate my individuality. I was wrong. It roots the layers within me. It deepens the identity I forge. I will never be exactly them. I retain my credos, the right to my choices. But, their guiding mannerisms and practices comfortably creep in between like the first streaks of plum across the sleeping sky announcing sunrise. Pieces of heritage, for better or worse, which define my character. I have promised, however, not to say “rise and shine” to dusk lovers.


At particular moments it is possible to observe a green flash on the upper rim of the rising sun. This phenomena is caused by differing air temperature layers enhancing refraction of the sun’s light separation. Sunrises over sea level and in-flight are the most likely locations to track this mirage.

Have you noticed behaviors similar to those of your parents in you? Are they things you embrace or pet peeves?


132 replies »

  1. It is not surprising that we ‘become’ our parents. One thing is for sure, the older I got, the more I understood my parents and forgave them all their ‘trespasses.’ 😉
    Mark Twain’s quote: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” Pretty much sums it up!

  2. And so I am even more glad for your comment on my own ‘early rising’ post for it brought me here! Thank you for this beautiful, stirring post, it brought back some strong memories, such as my own ‘accidental’ sunrises at university and other times and places when I just happened to wake with a sense that something magical and indescribably beautiful was painting itself outside the window. As a teenager I helped my dad work his market stall on weekends, we were there before sunrise, often in the freezing cold (newspaper stuffed inside our moon boots as insulation, somehow it worked), setting things up and one morning I used his SLR camera to photograph the sunrise. Somehow that pic got made into a set of drinks coasters, which my mum still has at her place somewhere (note to self: check with mum if she still has them). I never thought about it till now, but my dad must have seen that sunrise too. He was mostly stressed about how the day at the market would go, as business was mostly terrible towards the end, and he didn’t like to talk much, which made spending the whole day with him a bit tough going, but he must have seen that sunrise too.

    • Thank you so much for recounting your beautiful sunrise memory. Wonderful as they are on their own, catching a sunset or sunrise can so often be made more poignant by the events they recall or because of the people we shared the experience with at the time. “He must have seen that sunrise too,” and he must have also noticed how magical it was for you.

  3. Every image here is just magnificent! I am not a morning person so typically, the only time I see the sunrise is 1) when I am standing the 3:00 – 6:00 AM watch under sail 2) when I am in a location that has a must see sunrise photo opportunity that I drag myself to get up for (Angkor Wat).

    With regards to parents, I see both their good and bad in me. Luckily the good is far stronger than the bad…and I try to keep the bad in check. And one of the reasons I never had children is that I was afraid of giving birth to a child that was as much of a terror as I was to my parents in my early years…although my mother seems to be under the delusion that I was such a little angel (I was not).

    • It’s funny that you and your mother have such different remembrances of how you were as a child. At least it’s not the other way around where you believe you were an angel and your mother thinks otherwise! 😉

      As for early mornings…I hear you. Good thing my sunrise photos don’t show my incredibly grumpy attitude and face while I was taking them. 😀

  4. I absolutely revelled in reading your observations and understandings, in the way you led us from experiencing the dawn, to the insights into your parents and their beingness. I loved your beautiful prose, and the way you illustrated your story with such exquisite pictures… this post felt like a perfect little jewel, an example of how blogging can be an art form in itself.
    I felt so uplifted by the experience of reading this – and yes, I once saw the green flash, watching a sunset from a liner in the pacific – magic… I felt a sort of triumph at seeing that fabled moment !!!

    • Thank you so very much for your delightful comment. As your own posts are such an inspiration to me, combining various threads into a coherent whole, I am constantly striving to fashion mine into succinct thoughtful pieces.
      What a feast that must have been indeed, to see the green flash in the middle of the Pacific – I am envious.

  5. Since “retiring” I have the best of both worlds. I love starting the day early when it’s dark and quiet and nobody around. But I’ve always been my most creative at night. So I’ve solved that conundrum with a relaxing afternoon… making a nice big salad, taking a good nap, enjoying a cup of tea, perhaps a walk… then I’m refreshed and ready to go again! You can burn the candle at both ends… but not in the middle too! Great photos.

    • I love your philosophy. To try and make the most of both dawn and dusk, I’m going to try your method of relaxing afternoons (I especially love the nap idea.) Thanks so much!

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