Maybe it’s the contrast of light and dark. Maybe it’s the answered prayer of a new day. Maybe it’s the hope that comes with the dawn.
Whatever the reason, one of my favorite views is the sun shining into the tops of trees as a new morning comes.
Daybreak comes in stages. First the dark sky of night turns a paler hue to the east. The sky lightens with each passing moment until shortly before sunrise the world is bathed in enough light that we can do without headlights, porch lights and flashlights to make our way around.
It’s about this time that the sun’s rays hit the tops of the trees – minutes before that fiery ball slips over the horizon for those of us at ground level. In those few minutes the brilliance of the sun’s rays illuminate the treetops.
At this time of year, that is about the same time that I am out with the dogs, Piper and PJ, on our morning walk. There is something special about seeing the first rays of the sun as they strike the green needles of the tall pines in our neighborhood. The day has begun along with all of the opportunities that lie in front of us.
Several years ago my wife and I ventured to Maine and visited Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. Cadillac Mountain is the highest mountain along the ocean on the East Coast, and for much of the year the first rays of the sun each morning strike the peak of the mountain.
It is not uncommon during the fall and winter for visitors to Acadia National Park, Cadillac Mountain’s home, to get up in the pre-dawn hours, drive to the top of the mountain and wait (with lots of others I have heard) for the dawn’s first rays to reach them.
I don’t know if they get a badge or a chance to buy a T-shirt that says “I went to Cadillac Mountain and saw the sun before you did,” but whatever the reason being the first to greet the day is important to them. And so it is with my dogs and me.
Well, my dogs don’t actually look up in the treetops. They’re too busy sniffing every pile of pine straw, trying to greet every dog they see or deciding whether to try to jerk their leashes and begin a squirrel chase. But they are with me, so I associate the beginning of a new day with those two.
Strangely enough, I don’t notice the same effect in the evening when the sun dips below the horizon. I’m sure it is there, but I don’t tend to look at the treetops to see those last rays of the sun. Nor am I aware of groups of people going to high places out west to be in the place where they can see the final rays of the day. Perhaps most of us are more intent on looking to the future than to looking back.
As an aside, in my reading I learned that the two other places where dawn’s first light strikes in the U.S. are also in Maine. One is at West Quoddy Head near Lubec for a few weeks around the time of the spring and fall equinoxes. The other is at Mars Hill, near the border with New Brunswick, Canada, which sees the first rays of the sun between March and September.
During our trip to Maine, we visited West Quoddy Head, the farthest east point in our country and passed through the town of Lubec, the eastern-most city in the U.S. We even went to a gift shop that proudly proclaimed itself to be the eastern-most gift shop in the states.
Enough geography lessons for the day. Look up and enjoy the first rays of the day.
Jeff Wallace is the retired editor of the Aiken Standard.