For as long as I can remember, I have been an early morning riser. I’m not sure what makes a person wake early. Neither my husband nor daughter are morning people. Both tend to come more alive at night and have no problem sleeping late into the mornings with the sun blazing through the windows and the hum of the buzzy world beginning its day.
I think a big part of the early morning wake-up time for me stems from anxiety. When I was young, there was always worry about getting up and ready for school and walking to school, which took some time. From my mid-20’s until I retired, I rose early to make sure lunches got packed, my daughter got to school, pets were fed and walked, and I allowed plenty of time to commute to my job. For the better part of my working life, I was a commuter, often facing a 45-minute drive to work. Over the years, there was much anxiety over weather and road conditions. I have many memories of traumatic drives to and from work.
My commuting experiences included:
- Hitting deer
- Getting flat tires
- Narrowly avoiding accidents with erratic drivers
- Watching funnel clouds form in stormy skies
- Fearfully praying out loud while slipping and sliding on icy roads.
But despite waking early to deal with the day’s anxieties, I have found that I’ve had no pressure many days. I‘ve developed a certain amount of excitement about waking early and being alone with a cup of coffee when dawn breaks. I think of this time as the magic hour when I am handed the gift of watching a resting world come to life.
Typically I awake between 4:30 and 6:00 a.m. Coffee is the first order of business. With messy hair and java in hand, I head to the den and stand at the windows to stare out into the yard. Often I see the shadows of little rabbits sneakily nibbling in my flower beds. And frequently, we are visited by a small herd of deer that roam the neighborhood at night when resident’s dogs are locked indoors. Next, I fire up my computer or grab a tablet of paper and begin writing. At this hour, I am undistracted, my thoughts are clear and my own, un-driven by tasks and outside demands. I can sit and ponder anything I wish, from my most outrageous wishes to my darkest memories. I can giggle to myself, or shed tears over past pains, all alone, with no witnesses, other than the little houseplants and our pet turtle Tootles, who sit nearby.
Time alone is significant to me. I need time to muster up the strength to face difficult things, hatch exciting plans, reflect on events that have transpired, and strategize on solving problems. I also need time to just sit, and breathe, close my eyes, and absorb stillness. Early mornings are my time for being present in calmness.
One of my favorite books, as a child, was a Little Golden Book edition of A CHILD’S GARDEN OF VERSES by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. Wilkin’s illustration style spoke to me as a child of the 60s. And though Stevenson’s poems were written in 1885, they capture a small child’s sense of wonder and curiosity about how things work in the world. My favorite poem was My Shadow, in particular, the last stanza, which begins: “One morning very early, before the sun was up, I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup.” I’m certain Stevenson wrote this from his own “magic hour” experience. I too have stepped outdoors at dawn into the stillness and mystery. Perhaps, like me, Stevenson was an early morning riser who woke to create, wonder and seek answers to life’s questions.
by Robert Louis Stevenson
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow –
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
Source: The Golden Book of Poetry (1947)