Wednesday, July 7, 2010

MORNING GLORY. The joy of sunrise walking.

“Oh, it’s grand to be up in the morning,
When the sun begins to shine
At four or five or six o’clock
In the good old summer time.”
Harry Lauder (1870-1950), Scottish singer and entertainer.

Up at four, or five or six o’clock seems a necessity if I want to stick to my training plan on hot summer days. In my final weeks of training for the 42 K September 26 marathon and the 120 K four-day hike in October, I plan to do walks of 15 to 30 K twice a week, with one or two shorter walks and a little cross-training in between.
But it’s more than a necessity. On a summer morning, it’s glorious. To be up in time to see the sunrise is to be alive during the best part of the day, even if my walking trail is plagued with mosquitoes and deer flies. If they are the price, it is worth it.

“Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun,” according to Noel Coward. He overlooked baseball players. But Coward was a very English Englishman. Perhaps he didn’t know about baseball.

I watched a baseball game at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. On television, Yankee Stadium looks like a magnificent facility. Too bad it doesn’t have air-conditioning. Eighteen players toiled or broiled, if not under the noon-day sun, at least under early-afternoon sun when the temperature was 103 F. (or almost 40 C).

When air conditioning on a hot day has cooled the main floor of our little bungalow to 23 C, it has cooled my basement office to the point where I feel a need to either wear a sweater or exercise. I watched only the last five innings of the baseball game. As I did, my legs pumped the pedals and my arms swung the handlebars of my stationary bicycle for 90 minutes, pausing briefly and frequently to drink gallons—or at least lots—of water. Originally, the machine told me how fast and how far I pumped, recorded my pulse rate, and guessed the number of calories burned. But that was years and a million miles ago before the instrumentation died of fatigue.

There was a time when I could work under a hot sun, almost like the baseball players. When we built our two-storey house at Woodville, Joan, our 17-year-son and I worked endless hot days, mixing cement, pushing a heavy wheelbarrow, carrying and laying concrete blocks, sawing, lifting, hammering, working, working, working.

That was more than 30 years ago. There comes a time when walking more than just a couple of blocks under a hot sun is just too much.

But early morning. Ah, early morning!

Does the sun really shine at 4 o’clock? Perhaps in the farthest northern highlands of Scotland. In Çanada’s Arctic, the summer sun shines night and day. Children in Inuvik seldom go to bed before October. But here in Central Ontario, 4 a.m. is just a tad early for sunshine. It’s still dark. But that’s 4 a.m. Daylight Saving Time. At 4 a.m. Standard time, the sun has crept close enough to the skyline to start lifting the darkness. At 5, “rosy fingered dawn”—as Homer called her 3,000 years ago— is painting the eastern skyline. At 5:30, the sun is shining.

Now is the time for photographers. The world is hushed and still. The air is crisp and clean, the sky is deep, brilliant blue. The low rays of the sun strike objects with full force, making colours more brilliant than will be seen the rest of the day. A red barn is more red and purple, yellow and white wildflowers are more purple, yellow, and white. Later in the day the light from the overhead sun is diffused, dulling the colours; the far-away hills, the trees that edge the lake shore, the red barn, are all hazy; the sky has become a pale, leaden blue. If the day is both hot and humid, 34 C can feel like 43, measured by the humidex. And if there is smog to go with it, it can endanger your health.  Morning glory has left for the day.

It is said that rising early in the morning, is good for body and soul. “Nothing can be more prejudicial… than lying long in bed after one is distinctly awake,” wrote the editor of the St. Catharines, Ontario Journal in 1837. It “thickens the juices, enervates the solids, and weakens the constitution. A free open air is a kind of cold bath… [that] makes the circulation brisker… braces up the solids” so that “the gross evacuations [are] more readily thrown off.” The joy of watching and feeling the sunrise, he says, brings cheerfulness, “adds a true force to the heart, and gives a spur to lagging and jaded spirits.”

Wake! For the sun, who scatter’d into flight
The Stars before him from the field of night,
Drives night…with them and strikes
The Sultan’s Turret with a shaft of light.

Or so said the Tent Maker, in Edward Fitzgeralds’ The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

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