One morning on Star Island, I heard the cardinal at 4 a.m. Closer to first light. The waning crescent moon was hung over a deep pink rainbow of a skyline. I began to wonder why we don’t always get up with the light. It is actually quite bright in the hour between dawn and sunrise.
Before that summer, I had used the words dawn and sunrise interchangeably, but I learned that dawn refers to the first light that comes before sunrise. There is so much of it. Enough to read and write in my journal. We could save a lot of electricity if we got up at first light, and went to bed earlier. Of course, that is the logic behind daylight savings time, where we set the clock ahead so that we wake up an hour earlier during the longer days.
But what would it be like if our world was oriented to the rising and setting of the sun? Then every day we’d rise a little later or earlier than the day before. Because the sunrise changes every day. We’d have long days in the summer, and short days in the winter. The earliest sunrise in Maine comes in mid June, just before 5 a.m. daylight savings time. (That would be 4 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.) The latest sunrise comes about 7:15 at the end of December, except, because of time changes, it actually gets to 7:22 in early November, before we fall back with the changing of the clocks.
So, people might say that it wouldn’t be practical, in our world, to plan our day according to the sun. We plan our lives according to the clock. But what do we lose by that? While I was trying to discover the natural rhythm of dawn, I could feel how disconnected I was from all natural rhythms. Rising at dawn is a way to deepen my relationship with the seasons of the earth, and to the sun, and to the birds. But it makes me wonder, “Why do we try to shape the earth to our demands? Why don’t we try to shape ourselves to the rhythms of the earth?” And what might happen if we changed that pattern?
Cultures and religions the world over have honored the sacredness of dawn, the sacredness of the sun. Our word “sun” comes from the Old English, “sunne,” which was related to the Germanic sun goddess, “Sunna.” It shows up in our everyday language—the day of our worship is called Sunday. Christian monks, and Hindu priests rise at dawn; Muslims during Ramadan, as well as Indigenous peoples across many cultures. There is something in our human life that wants to be attuned to the life of the earth, which looks for beauty and joy in these simple rhythms.