A few weeks ago, I realized that it had been an entire year since I started broadcasting sunrise from the island. With the exception of three days, I put up something each morning, usually live. And it’s hard to imagine a whole year has gone by~ remember those first days when we thought this would be a short-term, flatten the curve kind of experience? A year ago, I was looking at a few weeks at home with five adults trying to figure out how to finish work and school using zoom. (Is it any wonder I escaped outside whenever possible?)
When the governor closed the public beaches and boat ramps, I went down to Ancient Dunes walk and sent a live sunrise to my sisters, my friends in the snow, my cousins home with young kids, my teacher friends who were struggling with the new reality, my island neighbors who couldn’t get here from other states. I could see in real time who was up with me in the morning, and I was always delighted when someone watched it later in the day.
There is something spiritual and communal about sharing a sunrise with someone, even if (especially if?) nobody speaks. I found that I couldn’t wait to get to the beach in the morning, and I loved simply watching the light break over the horizon and knowing I was sharing that experience live with someone else who was craving a little light. One day I was struggling with motivation, frustrated with trivial things, but I went to the beach anyway. That was the day we saw the dolphin leap, twice, completely out of the water, lit by the rising sun. Showing up mattered. And the discipline of going out to find a good vista for sunrise daily gave structure to our days, which was so helpful in those early, chaotic, random and endless days.
With the live stream, I could often see who was watching. It was one of my greatest blessings to wake up with college roommates, former neighbors, high school friends, former students, the kids’ preschool teachers, cousins from around the country, strangers in the UK and Europe. I cried with friends and grieved their losses with them, and I was comforted by their gentle presence when I was grieving my own. This weird, “selfie” technology was building soft webs of support and presence in a way I could not have predicted, and many days it was basically a prayer set into action. Someone challenged me to send the story of the broadcast sunrises to the New York Times for their COVID-19 newsletter and it got published the next day, to my utter astonishment. From there I heard from people in Canada, Austria, Ireland who asked to be on the distribution list, so we started adding the daily sunrises to youtube.
We could predict with happy regularity the six or so neighbors who were also, together and apart, watching sunrise daily, greeting each other from a safe distance. Our dog loved finding his canine friends on the beach. We also saw migrating peregrine falcons, horned grebes, black skimmers, the tracks of nesting loggerhead turtles, the tiniest of sea turtle hatchlings, thousands of tree frogs, mating toads, coyote tracks, an osprey eating a shark, and the daily subtle changes in the seasons that are always there, if we but look.
Meanwhile, little slivers of hope and social engagement brought a glimpse of normal: picnics and birthday parades with friends, colleges opening, and new routines. I began to wonder how and when we would end this ritual, and trusted that we would know when the time is right. And as we emerge from the year and cracks of light begin to appear, it might be time to unclench that fist of tradition. We can hug family again. Most of our neighbors have been fully vaccinated. The kids who spent the fall in a makeshift one-room schoolhouse on the island have gone back to actual school. Our days have outside pressures on them once again. Some gray mornings call for a lazy novel reading session in bed, covered with furry friends. Or a leisurely cup of tea on the porch with a spouse. Soon, we hope, this pandemic year will be a fever-dream of the past.
As we all find our way out of a year of collective trauma, it is overwhelming to think about a new normal, and we all need to summon a little more grace and kindness, even (especially) with ourselves. I find myself reluctant to move into a new normal of scheduled events, and finding time for sunrise is still a pleasure and a ritual I still want to indulge in. I’ll be out there regularly, but not quite so reliably. So don’t worry if I take the occasional day off; I might be reading a novel under a cat. I might be grabbing the last minute of quiet before contactors start hammering. Sea turtle season starts in a couple of weeks, so you’ll find me back on the beach daily starting May 15. If you’re not into social media, you can subscribe to sunrises over on youtube here. And (shameless plug) if you want a little glimpse of nature in one-minute doses, head on over to naturewalkswithjudy.com and click join. You’ll have moments of nature delivered right to your inbox.
A hearty thanks to the people who have connected over sunrises in this weird year. I am so grateful for your presence. Stay safe, friends. Look for the light that arrives every day.