I had the distinct pleasure to spend a week at the beach in a most graciously, if somewhat indulgently, appointed house this past month. My room was ground floor, facing east, not more than 30 paces from a private pool and 50 paces from the beach. I could hear the surf gently pounding when the door was open. (Sadly, in all this extravagance, there was no window to open to let the sea air and the ocean’s noises in.)
My routine was as follows: to bed around midnight, awaken around 6:00, open the shades to see if sunrise will be visible (it was all week), throw on just enough clothes to get by, unlock the door and step out into the fresh, humid ocean breeze. It was hard to sit down for everything was wet, not from some Camelot-ish, overnight rain (though it was tempting to think so), but from the condensation that is ubiquitous at seaside. Throw a beach towel on the rail to dry at 3:00 pm and, while it will likely be dry by nightfall, it is also likely to be damp again by morning.
I have not checked this out but I wouldn’t be surprised if one way the dune grasses (of which there were thankfully an abundant amount this year, testament to the beach reclamation efforts of the local communities) thrives is through the moisture they pluck from the air at dawn. (Israel is developing pioneering methods for the age-old technology of harvesting dew by channeling the water droplets directly to plant roots before the dew either evaporates or dissipates.)
After a week of watching, it was clear that each sunrise was different, as if each had its own story to tell, each dawning its own personality, each morning truly a new day. Gifted with this enchanted week, I rediscovered what is obvious to anyone living close to nature, and largely invisible to those of us who don’t:
1) This extraordinary spectacle of sunrise breaks upon us every morning, everywhere, to everyone, worldwide, equally, with no cost or human effort. Yet I would bet that most often, unless there is some rare obscurity or natural oddity, most of us don’t think about it much. (Birkat Hahammah, the sunrise blessing we recite every 28 years that occurred this past spring, is a rare moment when we directly, ritually acknowledge the gift of the sun.)
2) The sun, as our biologists, geologists and environmentalists tell us, is the only open system on earth. All else is closed, contained, save for the errant meteor that comes crashing in every now and then. What we have here and now is all that we will ever have. Except for the remarkable life-giving power of the sun. The world runs on sunlight. Plants are powered by the sun; animals eat the plants; other animals eat the animals that eat the plants; the people eat the plants and animals that ate the plants that were powered by the sun. It is one big chain of sunlight.
3) And we do one more thing with sunlight: we burn it. In open pits and hearths, cars and power plants, we burn sunlight. Most of today’s fuel – coal, natural gas, oil - was made from the plants that were powered by millions of years of sunlight millions of years ago. In other words, we burn, travel by, cook with and heat ourselves with stored sunlight.
4) Of course, we also use the products of current sunlight: wood, biomass, wind, the circulation of the air and the flow of the ocean waters, like the gulf stream, and direct sunlight itself. The wise ones of our generation tell us that we must change our ways and live off of current sunlight, the sun’s income, that which comes in to us daily and whose products are renewable, and not its savings, that which is stored and not replenishable. With proper research and development, we can do that. Sunshine provides abundant energy for all earth’s needs, including our ever-growing, ever-demanding power-hungry society. It is that that we must use.
5) If I had the privilege, and the skill, I would create a photo-montage, a documentary of sorts, of 365 days of sunrise from the same spot on earth. Right here on the eastern seaboard of the mid-Atlantic states overlooking the ocean would do. Perhaps such a visual spread would remind us that each day is new and different, bringing its own opportunity for adventure and achievement and learning and, sadly, loss.
The photos would show the arc that the sun sketches as it moves from solstice to equinox and back again. We would see the “stopping and turning” of the sun at its northern and southern most outposts. We could see how the sun hangs lower in the sky throughout the lesser days of winter, and how it rises high overhead in the blazing days of summer. We could see the phases of the moon and its relationship to the sun. (The moon was in its last quarter that week, rising just a bit earlier than the sun, and rapidly disappearing into a thin sliver that got visibly thinner over the few days we were there.)
Perhaps it would forever remind us that no matter how much we pave over this earth, no matter how much dirt we move or dig up, no matter how powerful our machines and how much we alter and force the earth to do our bidding, in the end, we are dependent on it, as it is dependent on the constancy of the sun.
Short of such a montage, perhaps we can simply commit to checking out the placement of the sun every morning (or evening, the key is constancy) noting the time, marveling in the heavenly cycles, and remembering how life really works.