The Beauty of Sunrise — And Beyond

From the time I was a little girl, I have always loved watching the skies. My favorite times are early morning, late afternoon into sunset, and night. The beauty is ever-changing, with so much depth and richness of cloud and color.

That’s been true everywhere I’ve lived. But when I moved to the Atlantic coast of Florida, my sky-viewing awe got cranked up several notches, as I found myself initiated into sky colors and textures of a whole new richness of golds, pinks, peaches, purples. Sometimes it feels like I need a whole extra set of eyes just to take it all in.

Naturally, heading to the beach to watch the sunrise is a popular activity. For visitors from places with lots of hills, trees, or buildings, it might be their first unobstructed view of the sun coming up over the flat horizon. But locals love walking to the beach to watch the sunrise too. It may be primally ingrained in us humans to eagerly await the sun’s first rays after the long night.

This morning I was out doing a small task in the yard, and basking in the brilliant morning color show. Layered clouds, backlit gold, heathery purple sky-shadows. 

A man and woman who I recognized from the neighborhood passed by, walking briskly toward the beach, coffee cups in hand. I called good morning to them. They asked if I had gotten to see the sunrise (the beach is about 5 minutes’ walk from my house). I was a little taken by surprise, as I always am when people ask that, because to me, we were in the sunrise! Right here right now. I mumbled something generic and waved at them. 

How easy it could be for me to miss the full glowing sky-show of daybreak, if I were just focused in on seeing that orange sunball come up over the horizon line. 

And it reminded me of how mainstream society focuses on a very narrow range of beauty in many ways. The garden plant is valued for its flower, but ripped out when it’s finished blooming, to be replaced with new different flowering plants. While the old flower’s seed-stalks that would produce an abundance of blooms next year, with no human intervention, gets discarded as “yard waste.”

We don’t see the beauty of the late summer-browned stalk and seed heads. Not because they aren’t beautiful. (If you’ve never taken a close look at wildflower stalks and seed heads, try it sometime! The geometry is stunning, and the strawlike color and texture remind me of autumn-gold fields.) We don’t see the beauty not because it isn’t there, but because our modern mainstream Western society is trained-in to see only a narrow slice of the full spectrum.

We can re-train ourselves, though. Open up our boxed-in minds.

Last year around this time, I often sat in my “outdoor living room” (car-free driveway with chairs) and savored the fall beauty of the wildflower stalks in the lowering angle of afternoon sunlight. And felt the first whiff of winter in the air (yes even here in Florida you can feel it if you tune in), and looked forward to what I think of as the “orange-and-brown” months: October and November.

Have you ever noticed some area of your life where you’ve gotten focused in on a very narrow range of beauty (or a very narrow definition of accomplishment)? I have, often! Fortunately it’s pretty easy to shift to a wider bandwidth of appreciation, just by slowing down and setting an intention to tune in to the natural world.

Further Exploration:

• Right after I made this post, I read my local paper. What a fun synchronicity to find that Mark Lane’s popular “Darwinian Gardener” column for that day mentioned the Beautyberry as a true sign of fall in Florida. This Florida native plant is just an unassuming shrub for 10 months out of the year. But in fall, it bursts into bright-pinky-purply berries. He mentioned that his neighbors give him a hard time for bothering to keep a plant that isn’t spectacular year-round. He explains: “The American beautyberry is admittedly a rough-looking bush in the winter and a so-so yard resident in the summer. But fall in Florida would totally sneak up on the Darwinian Gardener if the green berries of the beautyberry didn’t purple up at the height of hurricane season. They bring hope that someday the heat will abate. Just be patient. This might happen.”

• Another good read, which I just started, is Doug Tallamy’s book Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard. Tallamy, an entomologist and advocate of re-wilding residential yards, is someone I’ve often mentioned on this blog. He’s written many articles and given at least one TED Talk. This book is a lovely and encouraging read so far. He talks about our yards as “Homegrown National Park,” a place to savor the unique beauties of each season; a refuge for humans as well as wildlife.