Exploring the Dawn

Exploring the Dawn

“Before the work of the day, taste the poetry of the day! Our poor, battered minds and sprits need the dawn. There is the calm of nature, the sanity of the earth, in each breath of scented air on a sunrise in June.” — Edwin Way Teale

For the last year or more I have risen before the sun. I am not sure why this is, but my mind comes awake, and I stumble from bed to make coffee and prepare for the new day ahead. The commanding view on our property faces east and frequently, with cup in hand, I venture out to watch the rising sun over the back pasture. Teale is correct, there is a calm in nature and our minds and spirits need to witness sunrise in June.

I have become accustomed to the vagaries of the dawn. Some mornings I am awestruck as the sky above the eastern tree line turns shades from red to orange and slowly to bright yellow as the sun cracks the horizon. Other mornings the world is in a murky fog as dew-damp fields meet the cool air of lingering twilight. The morning is ashen shades of grays, first dark then brightening despite the opacity of the fog until the ever-rising sun wins the day burning off the moist air. Soon the world is green again.

It seems this month I have noticed a heavier dew than earlier this spring. I pull on my rubber barn boots and venture out to the back field to watch the sunrise. Looking behind me my path is a meandering dark green compared to the shimmering silver of the dew coated field. We learned in school dew comes from water changing from vapor to liquid due to condensation. The grass becomes cooler and the moist air clinging to it contracts into droplets of dew. The burning sun reverses this process and soon the grass is dry again, refreshed and pushing into the light.

Dew has a way of turning nature into art. Later this summer I’ll be looking for the large wheel shaped web of orb weaver spiders, such as the large black and yellow Argiope spider, also known as the golden garden spider. The droplets accent each zigzag of silken thread but only for those moments when the dew is heavy, and the heat of the day has yet to descend upon the landscape. I’ll check to see if the large female is there in the center of her circular web, quick and ready to react to the slightest tremor from an unwary insect caught in its snare.

During breeding and nesting season the birds start to sing even before the light begins to emerge. For the past few weeks, they have started as early as 4:30 am — an hour before sunrise. It’s those songs that prompt me to start the coffee pot and step into the still dark air to listen to the dawn chorus. I hear the male robin and cardinal first, along with wood thrush and red-winged blackbird. As the light slowly emerges, they are joined by gold finch, house wren, mourning doves and the noisy, red-bellied woodpecker. I will say the robin makes the most noise. His singing is a constant frantic uncontrolled song in a vain attempt to make sure no other bird gets a word in edgewise or interrupts his predawn performance.

The cacophony of birdsong fills the air until the morning light is strong enough for them to begin foraging. They have nestlings to feed and territories to defend. It’s time to stop all this racket and get on with the bird-business at hand. As June slides into July, and July into August the dawn chorus will diminish, and sunrise will be quieter, much to the relief of those who prefer to slumber on summer mornings.

On chilly mornings I find my garden plants and flowers taut and upright with leaves wrapped tight like blankets against the cool air. The flowers fold inward as though protecting their precious cargo of pollen and nectar for the pollinating insects waiting to emerge with the warming sunlight. A walk through my garden at first light finds no pollinators at work. Unlike the bird songs announcing a new day, our beneficial insects prefer the heat of the afternoon to do their handywork.

My resident squirrel family is still asleep, but Peter cottontail is up and grazing red clover and grass in the backyard. He stops mid-chew and freezes when his peripheral vision discerns my form. I offer a few encouraging words and remind him that while he is welcome to the grass and clover, the vegetable and pollinator gardens are strictly off limits. I suspect he is the culprit who snipped off fresh blooms of phlox in the perennial garden. One morning half of them were snipped at the base, and the next morning the job was complete. A few more words from me and he has had quite enough, and in a quick dash heads for the safety of the raspberry patch.

My sunrise stroll over, I head back to the house with a clear mind to prepare for the day ahead. I spot a lone yellow tiger swallowtail butterfly fliting about our blooming rhododendron. I can’t help but be thankful to live in a place as beautiful as The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. I hope you’ll make time to venture out before first light to greet the new day as it rises from the east, a gentle reminder to care for it, enjoy it, and pass it on.

Information for this column was gleaned from Circle of the Seasons by Edwin Way Teale, the National Geographic Society website nationalgeographic.org, and the Kaufman Field Guide to Nature in New England.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He has lived in and explored the region for over 40 years and can be reached at bill@tlgv.org

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