Early Bird

The day shall not be up so soon as I,
To try the fair adventure of tomorrow.
~ William Shakespeare

I have a “carpe diem” mug and, truthfully, at six in the morning the words do not make me want to seize the day.  They make me want to slap a dead poet.       ~ Joanne Sherman

 Ah, 5 A.M. on what is forecast as a lovely day, perhaps the tail-end of our magical early warmth this year…although, glancing at the upcoming forecast, I see 74° posted for next Saturday by the local weather oracle. This year we’re learning, and being reminded every day, that we never know what surprises the morning might bring.

This is the day we’ve set aside to tackle some preliminary yard clean-up, weeding around the twelve gardens’ edges, and cleaning between the bricks on the front steps. I’m still leery about scraping away last winter’s garden mulch; we’ve had frost in mid-May, and Mother Nature’s acting very menopausal and unpredictable this year, so I think I’ll let her take the lead and follow respectfully. Just a good day to pick up a few stray branches, invite families of weeds to relocate, smell the sweet spring breezes, and listen to the song of the world.

I do love this time of day. Always have. I inherited Early Riser Syndrome from my father, who was also an inveterate gardener. In summer, we’d go out together to weed and talk about the flowers, which then became talks about my school days, the challenges of cliques, questions about boys, or all those intimate and wonderful things a father and daughter who are very close share with each other. There was something about the stillness and light, the sense of sacredness the dawn confers, and our solitude, together, that seemed to make us more fully ourselves during these conversations. Eventually, I found I could not rise early and go into the garden without sensing my father’s presence and willingness to listen, which I’m sure is one of the reasons my own gardens seem to multiply as I grow older: I like having his spirit around. There is still so much to talk about and share.

There’s something so clean and pure about a new day. Sunrise, birdsong (owl-hooting legitimately qualifies, in my book) and nothing but possibility…I step quietly out on the back deck to breathe and to welcome this year’s happy little duck family as they waddle up from their riverside nest to enjoy a bit of our birdseed: we acknowledge each other peacefully and allow companionable silence to surround us as we all take in the view. I expect they have plans for their day, too, and I step back inside so they might confer in privacy.

There are drawbacks to the early bird rhythm, of course. I was never, physiologically, fond of the whole “slumber party” idea. I was the girl off in the corner sleeping by 9:00 P.M., and then up at 5, eager to play those games my friends were so excited about just a few hours earlier. (An insight regarding my low adolescent popularity quotient…) New Year’s Eve has never had much appeal to me, and some promising young romances completely deflated, and quickly, when we learned our biorhythms were drastically incompatible.

Waking early is not without benefits, however. One advantage to being an early bird is the lovely indulgence of an afternoon nap, two of the most beautiful words in the English language. After all, you’ve put in a full day’s work and deserve a bit of rest by, say, three in the afternoon. Sweet shadows, soft breezes, something to read and then—ah! The bliss of a brief nap.

But that will come later. I make a pot of coffee, look at garden catalogues and websites, dream, and wait for my partner to join me…Phillip sleeps to a reasonable hour (6:30, maybe)—still early for most, though, and he always wakes in a cheerful mood—nothing like my mother, who loathed mornings. I remember we’d peek in on her during her once-a-week “sleep-in” morning (Saturdays, I think), and laugh (quietly), because she’d have an extra pillow or two pulled over her head. There were only three of us children and we weren’t particularly noisy, but she’d certainly earned her right to honor her own body clock’s rhythm when she could, poor dear.

When Mama would finally join “the land of the living,” we knew not to initiate dialogue of any kind or to expect any to be forthcoming until she’d had her coffee, toast, read some papers, and acclimated to the idea of “not sleeping.” All the more remarkable then, I’ve always thought, that she slept on a downstairs “hide-a-bed” for the last 18 years of her life so she could be near my father’s hospital bed, and was often up before dawn to tend to his many needs and prescribed morning routine. Her own early bird needed tender care by then; if she’d anticipated retirement as a time when she could finally “sleep in” every morning, such hopes evaded her. And I never once recall her complaining about this. Love does indeed call us to the things of the world…

So we are divided into two groups once again, before our day’s even begun, and must make gentle accommodation for the needs of those in our immediate and more distant communities, recognizing that our differences bring blessing if we allow them clement space to unfold.

And so the world turns; we drift into sleep and arise, according to our needs, desires, and the demands of love…may you have a blessed day, adjust to its conversations and surprises with gratitude, and, should you be inclined, enjoy an afternoon nap!

6 thoughts on “Early Bird

  1. Catherine, beautiful post. The photos are lovely; you caught that fresh spring green in early morning light perfectly. I have many wonderful memories of gardening with my parents, quiet conversations – you caught that moment perfectly. Thank you, this essay is a treasure.

  2. Thank you for a beautiful examination of the virtues of being a morning person. In Florida, I’m up at 5 with or without an alarm. What so beautiful is the gradual awakening of the birds. As the sun comes up, the singing is louder and louder until a wonderful chorus of many sounds and pitches fills the air. Thank you for a beautiful essay!

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