Getting up early in the morning is a virtuous thing to do. The pre-dawn hours are the territory of monks, contemplative poets and dairy farmers; people who understand that to experience the sublime on a regular basis, you need to have the lifestyle and self-discipline to get up before dawn, and not just because you set your alarm clock wrong.
Sadly, I have never been one of those types of people. The first time I came across the term “revenge bedtime procrastination” in a meme, I knew immediately what it meant. “Yep,” I thought to myself. “That about sums it up.”
Never mind that the only person I ever got revenge on by staying up too late was myself. Still, from adolescence on, I’ve been haunted by the feeling that if I went to bed earlier — and consequently got up earlier — I’d be a happier, more productive, and generally all-around better person.
This winter, with two young dogs needing pre-dawn pee breaks, I finally achieved my dream of being an early riser. It was just as good as I’d always thought it would be — the hush of stars fading into a faint band of light at the horizon, the arc of the prairie painted with the first hint of morning.
I’d walk the dogs along the section line, a fingernail of moon still hanging high, and watch the day burst forth, catching the frost and turning it to fields of diamonds.
I did not, however, master the art of going to bed earlier. And thus, as the dogs got older, and their bladders bigger, my wake-up time slowly got later too. Meanwhile, as the weather warmed, the light arrived earlier and earlier. Rising to see the dewy summer dawn became an impossible dream.
Hope springs eternal, though, thank goodness. While camping with the kids last month, the three of us sleeping in one bed, I started falling asleep when they did. I inexplicably managed to keep the habit up when we returned home.
As a result, I have been waking up a little earlier each morning, a neat reversal of my schedule over the winter and early spring, and it feels like an honest-to-gosh miracle.
I still miss dawn most days. (During the summer months here on the Northern Plains the sun is fully up by 6 a.m., and I don’t expect to ever be virtuous enough to regularly be awake by then.
But this morning, I took the dogs out for a windy walk with the new sun sitting snug atop the eastern fields. The meadowlarks and kingbirds kept up a steady chorus on the fence line as I traversed the curving pickup tracks through the pasture. The dogs galloped ahead and then doubled back, going twice the distance while covering the same exact ground.
It was hot and dry all week, but the morning breeze was cool with just a hint of dampness, and it was scented with the fragrance of the waving alfalfa and the tiny yellow flowers blooming on the Russian Olive trees. The last of the purple coneflower blossoms swished and bobbed beside the crested wheatgrass and foxtail, backlit by the rising sun. It was as close to perfect as any morning I can remember.
I know better than to make any proclamations or assumptions about this being the new normal. When I was younger, I tried to follow the mantra “progress, not perfection,” but now I’m not even sure that’s my goal. Forward momentum isn’t always what’s needed.
Sometimes progress means turning back to discover lessons you missed the first time around. Sometimes progress looks like letting life unfold on its own terms instead of constantly pushing ahead.
For now, I’m going to bed at a decent time. Who knows what the next season of life will bring, but I feel like I’ve cracked some kind of code: perfection is waiting in the quiet of tall rustling grass, the last morning star, the golden faces of late summer flowers. It might be a little easier to notice at dawn, but it’s actually always there, if I remember to look.
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