Being an early riser has been much more of a blessing than a curse. This is especially true when traveling. The early risers get the empty roads, the uncrowded restaurants, the once-in-a-lifetime wildlife sightings. We get that soft pastel light that sneaks upon us from the east, growing ever brighter until long shadows etch the landscape. If I am driving west, I am driving into the shadow of my car. I am the first to spot the pronghorn on the open range. I am privileged to see the plateaus limned in smoky amber. I can stop at a café in Austin, Nevada and it is just myself and the waitress and the smell of fresh toast.
When I was younger and camping out with my friends, I was the first one up. I made the coffee and drank the first cup while listening to animal sounds in the chaparral and the snoring from nearby sleeping bags. I walked to school along quiet streets lined with apricot and pepper trees. I once helped my friend Steve Baltzer deliver morning papers through the streets of Los Altos. I was thirteen years old and reveling in the freedom of speeding through suburban streets on my bicycle, throwing papers at houses still asleep. It seemed like we had the town all to ourselves, that we were co-conspirators in owning the morning.
Recently I was staying at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park. I woke up restless at 530am, quickly got dressed, and headed outside where a dim dawn was just forming on the horizon. Old Faithful Geyser, normally thronged with tourists, had two people sitting on a bench waiting for the imminent eruption. I joined them in the silence, and then the magnificent roar and rumble of steam and water. The thermal plume climbed higher, silhouetted against a honey colored sky. With only the three of us there to delight in the spectacle.
Later, along the Firehole River, the sun still not awake, I walked a primordial landscape of bubbling pools, steaming hot springs, and sulfurous air. Then and there I was a man out of time, a man for all time, wandering the primal mists and mud pots of the geyser basin. A bison bull came out of the forest to graze beside a sputtering cone. And the first rays of sun spilled down the roof of the Old Faithful Inn.
I am blessed to be an early riser and not a slave to an alarm clock. I get there first and I enjoy my time alone. There is something in that pre-dawn light that is pure and deep, and full of hope for a new day, even if the later hours may disappoint. I always have the morning.