A continuation of the journey that began on January 1, 2010, recorded in "a year of getting up to meet the day." After 365 consecutive sunrise outings in that year, I couldn't bear to give up the dawn. This blog (no longer daily) will be informed and inspired by the rising light of the morning sun.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

coping with darkness within and without

sunrise:  7:07

Good news.  The earliest sunsets, the earliest darknesses of the year have already passed.  From now until June, the sun will stay with us a tiny bit later every evening.

The latest sunrise is still couple of weeks away, but in just a few days, the net daylight receipts will begin to rise.

More than in any prior pre-winter stretch of days, I've found myself seeing the slant of the sun.  There are so many things that I have seen through new eyes this year, due to the presence of this teenage exchange student from Pakistan whose life experience has been so removed from what we know, before she came here.

It's not just cultural and climatological differences, it's also just a generally sheltered life.  There are a lot of things that Q just never wondered about before.  This is a very intelligent girl, with a pretty good education (mostly in English) in one of Pakistan's better schools, from what we can glean.  But then there are these gaps in her knowledge where her reasoning is replaced by childish naivete, or what I might call magical thinking.  J and I delicately encourage her to think, treading carefully around faith and belief.  It is an interesting twist on the usual emergence of adult perspective through that revelatory life stage called adolescence.

In any case, as I explained the darker days of winter to Q, and how the sun was lower ALL day (it doesn't just follow the same sky path more quickly), I began to notice it myself.  On these longest days, the sun gives us that exquisite low-angled light for much longer stretches of time as it lingers low along the horizon.  Not so exquisite when it's in your face on the highway, but dazzling if you're just looking at the world.


I want to share one more thought before I sign off today.

We shed some tears yesterday over the devasted families of Conncticut, who have just seen such nightmarish, heart-crushing violence done to their little ones and others.

There is such anguish and suffering in the world, and it can seem especially unthinkable when it manifests itself at this supposedly delightful, celebratory time of year.  There is a reason why ancient peoples established so many celebrations of light during this darkest time in our calendar year.  At the best of times, humans suffer and struggle.  In darkness and isolation we suffer more.  This time of year is more of a reaching and striving time than a basking in the glow time.  It's hard work to live these lives; it's not easy for anyone.

It is the mistaken idea that everyone else is bursting with joy that often drives people to a breaking point.  We are supposed to be joyful, life is supposed to be filled with love and gratitude, so if we're not, our lives must be broken.  Not so.  We are all struggling together.

This shouldn't be a downer - it is a shared reality.  Perhaps with that acknowledgement, we can more readily open the doors of our hearts to the joy, beauty, love, and great gifts of the world.  Invite all those wonderful things into the house, knowing that they arrive with baggage.  Set those bags in a corner for now, over there with everyone's else's bags.  We'll deal with those all in good time.  For now, sit down, have a drink, take my hand.

Find a smile for this day.  Offer it to someone you love.  Offer it to a stranger.  Offer it to the great wide sky over your head.  And don't forget one for the mirror.

Monday, November 26, 2012

holidays with family - the work and rewards

sunrise:  6:47

I delivered the last of our traveling children to the airport at 5am this morning.  Thanksgiving comes and goes so fast, especially when so many of your favorite people in the world come and go along with the holiday weekend.

The reassembly of a loving family for the holidays is like throwing a bunch of colorful ingredients into a food processor and turning it on high, with the top off.  It is very exciting and might be quite beautiful if you don't mind cleaning up the mess afterward.

We had a few messes over the last few days, but the overwhelming takeaway is that everyone works very hard together over the cleanup.

As long as we continue to hold this great depth of dedication and love that will not falter, as long as we keep working hard to listen with real attention and think hard about the changes in each other and in ourselves, then I think every gathering will leave us feeling as warm and beloved and fortunate (albeit weary) as we all do after this one.

Family takes a lot of work, but it's worth the trouble.  Nothing else offers the same rewards.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

election day, big and not so big

sunrise:  6:21

prolific photos from my new, high res camera...

Election day has loomed so large for so long that most of the people I know are looking forward to it mostly so that it will be over.  (case in point made by this little girl on youtube) I recognize that the right to vote is an enormous privilege, and I really DO care who is ruling and representing my country, my state, my town...on the other hand, there are other things that predominate my attention.

I care that we decided to invite our temporary Pakistani exchange student to become a permanent member of our family for the year.  She came to the polls with J and me this morning.  She was the highlight of my last week's column in the Bangor Daily News.  She helps us discuss and understand how most Pakistanis feel about the awful things we read in the news about events in Pakistan.  It feels pretty important.

I care that my youngest daughter is back in local waters after 7 months away, crewing on a small (90 foot) passenger boat above the Arctic Circle, and that she's coming home soon, and that her dearest new friend and shipmate is recuperating in our home after breaking her neck in a terrible shipyard accident.

I care about an exquisite, frosted November morning in my back yard, where I always seem to find peace no matter what else is happening in this unpredictable life we lead.

Election day is a big deal.  But the immediacy of living can sometimes make it seem like a passing point of interest.

(Go Obama!)

Friday, October 19, 2012

St. John's, Newfoundland


Very belated posting of a sunrise photo from last August.  20-year-old T was a deck hand on The Wanderbird for the last six months, an 90 foot Dutch fishing trawler re-fitted to become a unique ecotourism ship for one to three week excursions.  She travelled north all summer, above the arctic circle, and finally returned to local waters last week.  Three crew, two captains, and 8 to 12 passengers at any given time.

It was about as far off the grid as one can get in this high tech age - no phone or internet was available 95 percent of the trip.

Soon, our dear youngest daughter will be returning home to figure out what comes next.  Hard to know what the transition will be like after such an experience, but I do know that she will never regret this half a year.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Senegalese sunrise

sunrise:  6:59

Toubab Diallo, Senegal

I spent last week in Senegal, a country on the westernmost edge of Africa.  My 23-year-old daughter and I were visiting her best friend from high school who has lived and worked in the capital city of Dakar for the last 15 months.  Along with best friend's mom, we made the trip to see her second home.  It was the first time any of the 3 of us had set foot on the African continent.

Below is a transcription of a sunrise journal entry from our first morning in Africa - in Toubab Diallo, a small beach-side village one hour south of Dakar.  I was still experiencing a disorienting culture shock in a land of intense heat and humidity, with sights and smells and languages and customs that had my head spinning.  By the end of the week, I had grown enchanted by the place and people of Senegal.

"I couldn't find my watch last night, but I needn't have worried about knowing when dawn was approaching.  Here, like, perhaps, every place on Earth, when dawn is about 40 minutes away and that dark night turns toward a deep blue hue, the birds wake up and start to make a great noise.

Another thing that helped me feel at home in this very foreign-feeling land was looking from our balcony over the beach this morning and seeing four dogs romping around the sand with wagging tails.

A flock of large birds (I'd have guessed Canadian geese if I weren't in Africa) flew overhead in V-formation.  A fisherman carried his boat motor over one shoulder, down to the beach where a couple of dozen long, narrow wooden boats were all lined up ("pirogues").

Women carrying what looked like laundry baskets on their heads made their way up a hillside walk.  It was strange to see many women and girls carrying things on their heads that way yesterday.  Somehow I thought it might just be some antiquated practice that no longer existed except in the imagination of American film-makers.

I'm trying to balance my caution (about parasites and mosquitos, about people who might want to pick my pocket, overcharge me, or steal my camera) with my open embracing of this whole place.  It will take some time.  Things are unfamiliar.  We get warnings about holding tight to our purses if we get stopped in traffic, conditions appear less than immaculate, and you don't get the sense that there's much in the way of safety inspectors policing roads, restaurants, hotels, and shops.

I was friendly with a woman on the beach yesterday who was selling jewelry and trinkets from her handmade baskets, and learned that I need to exercise greater restraint.  She proceeded to barrage us with patter to buy her things for a long time, even moving her whole operation onto the sand right at our feet where we were sitting in the shade.  I want to be friendly and to meet people, but I guess I have to learn to be more selective.

The sun has risen.  The sky and sea have changed their grays to blues.  The birds are slowing the pace of their frenzied huntings, or callings.  The air is gently soft on a moisture-laden breeze, but it portends the heat of day ahead of us.

My first night under mosquito netting is now behind me."

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mecca meets Maine

sunrise:  5:56

Although I am a believer in active planning to carve out the life we choose, I am also willing, from time to time, to leave my door open to serendipity.

Three weeks ago J and I got an email from the coordinators of our local AFS organization, an international student exchange program.  They needed a temporary host family for a 15 year old girl from Pakistan who still had not been placed with a host family for the 2012-13 school year.  After a brief discussion, we decided to take the leap.  We said yes.

Since there is a Q in her name, I will call her "Q."  Q arrived at the Bangor airport on August 17th.  Previous to her three-day orientation in Washington, DC, she had never been out of Pakistan, never left her family before.  Every cultural exchange student faces difficult adjustments when they come for their year in the US, but we have never hosted a student from a culture quite as different as this one.

Q is Muslim, may not eat meat (unless it is "Halal" meat, which is not much available in Bangor, Maine), must always have her legs and shoulders covered, and is supposed to pray five times a day (though she admits, in a universally familiar teen way, that she does not always meet every prayer requirement).  The weekend that she arrived happened to fall during Eid, the big annual celebration at the end of Ramadan.  Though she wears western clothes most of the time while here, she wore her traditional clothing and head scarf all that weekend.  She cooked us delicious spiced rice and and sweet dessert and privately said her dawn prayers in her room.  She comes from a culture where men and women are quite strictly segregated in many areas of life, physical contact with men is heavily restricted, and dogs are generally seen as unclean, frightening guard animals that bite.

That covers only a few of the cultural hurdles that Q has had to negotiate during her introductory weeks in the US.  This is an exceptionally courageous young woman.

Q arrived here with a clear and powerful sense of purpose.  She is one of scores of students from predominantly Muslim countries who are here under a government-sponsored scholarship program called "Youth Exchange and Study" (YES) that began in 2002.  While she is here, she will be required to take part in various community service projects, give presentations about her culture and her country, and learn about US culture and customs.  When I asked about her decision to come, she said that many people in her country have ideas about what Americans are like, "and they are so wrong."  With enormous support from her parents, whose leap of faith may be the greatest of all in sending their young daughter off to a faraway country for a year, she wants to dispel the myths amongst her countrymen.

Those myths go equally in the opposite direction.  Within her first few days in town, an adult asked Q about terrorism in Pakistan.  She said, "There are good people and bad people everywhere, but most of the people in Pakistan are good."

If only we had a global recognition of this reality - a reality that is true for every country on the planet!

It's hard to conceive of the inner resources that Q must be calling upon to face this year-long challenge, not least of which is simply missing her family.  There have certainly been tears, but they are always coupled with strength, with a gentle apology, with excitement for new experiences, and with determination to cope.  In one week she went from abject terror of our three dogs to tentative pats on their heads and offers to feed them dinner.  She dives into social situations with a bright face of anticipation and readiness to both listen to others and share her experiences.

But this cross-cultural world is filled with tough maneuvers.  After a couple of weeks of mind-boggling assimilation on her part, Q hit a wall of woe in the last day or two.  She couldn't stop the tears one evening, and her solution moved me deeply.  She needed to reconnect to her own culture; she needed to say her prayers.

Last night, Q asked me to remind her which way is east is from our house.  She wrote a schedule of the five prayer times (interesting and lovely explanation at this link) for our particular geographical location (based on the sun).  The first prayer comes before dawn, so she set her clock for 4am.

Prayers are brief, but their importance is to connect believers throughout the day to God and to the deeper meaning in our lives.

Is that so far from what we all seek to do?  Not for me.  In fact, Q's decision to get back on track with her connection to the deeper meaning in life inspired me to do the same.  In a very real way my sunrise walks, which are so easy to cast aside when I am in my comfortable bed, serve as a kind of spiritual practice for me.  I need to remember to take the time to be still, to center myself, to take a deep breath and reflect upon the deeper meaning in life.

It can never be anything but a positive exercise to reconnect ourselves to God, or nature, or the spirit of life, or our own deepest essence -- whatever feels most deeply real and important to each of us.  It makes us more complete.

J and I opened our doors to serendipity by saying yes to hosting a YES student from Pakistan.  Serendipity brought us an amazing gift that, perhaps, has only just begun to reward us with revelations.

After Q turned east this morning to say her pre-dawn prayers, I walked outside and turned east to greet the sun, the new day, the quiet time of reflection before the bustle of the day begins.  We have so much more in common than we realize.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

dogs, duck, and the heart of summer

sunrise:  5:30am

I realize that I have not featured my furry friends for quite a while, so I've included some snapshots of their participation this morning.  There are two reasons why they have been even more scarce than my posts:   1.  Their vocal contributions are not welcome in the neighborhood  2.  Their exuberance is less welcome by me when I know I'm going straight back to bed after my sunrise walk.

Now that the sunrise is back to 5:30, and it will actually begin my day, I am cautiously re-introducing them to the early morning walk.

You see Guster being particularly hound-like above.  Ever since J started mowing the back fields, the dogs have been wild over various newly uncovered scents.  This shot below shows a typical display of where their attention is generally directed.  Kate is my champion!

I caught this duck in flight, coming from over our pond.  I love the rising sun on her wing.   J saw eight babies, quite grown, on the pond the other day.  I think more survived this year than ever before because of all the cattails.

It is the heart of summer, and today is a heavenly cool morning following a long stretch of humid weather, which I do not like much.  

sumac under a gibbous moon

This is a wonderful day.  On your mark, get set, go!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

There are things I want to remember

sunrise:  5:25

I noticed that there were multiple versions of beauty in the round this morning, from the orbs in the sky to the fruits of the Earth.

There are things I want to remember, moments of transcendance or elation that I want to hold in my heart and mind.

Yesterday evening I was out walking the dogs, whose nudging had finally pestered me away from the computer for their evening stroll.  I was preoccupied by the thoughts in my head, the talk I've been working on for next week about my sunrise year.

As I rounded the northeast corner of the back field at the bottom of the hill, the beauty of my surroundings finally reached my brain. A host of dragonflies was crossing and circling and hovering over the meadow, silhouetted against a sunset sky.  Their aeronautical acrobatics made for a dazzling air show, and the setting was exquisite.

I desperately wished for my camera, or my phone, some way to capture the scene.  We are so determined these days to package and transmit every notable (and every dull) incident in our lives even in the moment of their occurrence, and I am not immune to the inclination.  But the result, I think, can be that we disable our memory.

Snapping a photo or tweeting a thought can offer a great shared experience, but it enables the distracted brain.  The event has been recorded; our work is done.  We can go back to that preoccupied musing over the talk we're giving next week and clear the impression from our mind.

I had no instrument of recording, but I was stirred by this moment of dragonflies, suspended between a field of goldenrod and the pink and azure sky canvas of a summer sunset.  I stopped walking.  I stood and watched for a while, and tried to give it time to sink in.

There are things I want to remember.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

sunrise rainbow

sunrise: 5:07

Just when I started thinking that I had seen most of what the sunrise has to offer, something new came my way.

The timing is good.  I spent some time yesterday preparing to give a talk about my year of sunrise outings, scheduled for August.  The experience was so huge in my mind that it has been difficult for me to find my way into the story of that year of getting up to meet the day.  I suppose that year encompasses many stories and discoveries for me, and that is the problem.  The life transitions, the writing, the sky watching, the brushes with wild animals and the antics of my dogs,  the incredible beauty of the world in both miniature and grand scale, my new relationship with the outdoors and growing acquaintance with a very unique time of the astronomical day.  It's all so intricately interwoven, it's hard to untangle one coherent tale to make it an interesting 30 minute talk.

I think the heart of this talk will be the idea of finding your own inspiration to express what is inside of you.  Everyone has something to say, wisdom to share, a story to tell.  It can come out in many ways, but for me, writing is what works.  And no doubt, being outdoors as the rising glow of day spreads across the sky opens me up.  Especially when I turn around toward the west and see a glorious double rainbow spanning its arch over my home.

I don't like to think of myself as a superstitious person, but sometimes it's hard not to feel as though the world is telling you something.