For the love of dawn

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I’m not a morning person. Definitely not an early riser. I never have been, and having a night shift job only reinforces that.

But I am a big fan of the dawn.

How it looks, how it feels, what it figuratively represents — yes to all of that.

I joke with people that I get up early for only a couple of things — to run a race or to climb a mountain. Necessity dictates early starts for both, as most road and trail races begin in the morning, and the preparations for race day require you to set an alarm, get fed, and be ready to toe the start line.

It’s a similar deal with the mountains. Most mountain treks start with an early morning drive to a trailhead, a long slog up the slopes, and toward the summit, hard steps or tricky climbing that take time — time that is bought by those early starts. You start early to avoid storms that come with the heat of the day, and to avoid heading down a peak in darkness when you’re beat-up and weary.

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The mountains are where I’ve seen my most memorable sunrises, and the juxtaposition of the beauty of mountain terrain with the danger and wildness that lies therein makes daybreak in the high country resonate that much deeper.

I’ve been told ultramarathoners who run 100-mile races struggle the hardest in the dark (hundred-milers require runners to run through the night), but usually pick up their strength once the glow of dawn peeks over the horizon. I’ve never run a race like that, but I’ve done the zero-dark-thirty alpine start in the mountains. The slog in the blackness of night, with only a headlamp giving you a ghostly view of the next few feet in front of you, can sap your spirit.

But then the blue-purple glow of fading night spreads to the east, giving way to red, orange, and yellow, and finally it appears — the ever-faithful sun, transforming the haunted domain of darkness into something spectacular, glowing with gold light and long shadows as our nearest star reclaims the land. Without fail, I gain strength and encouragement from that.

We can usually predict when the sun rises in a literal sense, but figuratively, times of darkness don’t have preset starts and endings. They just appear in the form of crises — illnesses, job losses, money problems, break-ups — or set in more glacially, those grinding stretches where one day seems as hard as the last, with no end in sight. The saying goes that it’s darkest before the dawn (and often coldest, especially in the alpine), but in metaphor-land, that’s impossible to measure. As is often the case, however, the figurative deep glow of breaking dawn signals the start of a new day, just as the abating of troubles, or slight improvements in your life, or good fortune, signal brighter times. In hindsight, the deepest, coldest gloom of night might be right before daybreak, but you won’t know it until it passes with the coming day. Such revelations make the good times that much sweeter.

As a committed night owl, there is a good chance I’ll miss tomorrow’s sunrise. But I appreciate the dawn just the same.

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Bob Doucette

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