Sunday morning addendum No. 1:
Lillian and I went to a Christmas party last night. I drank some wine. We came home and I drank some more wine and stayed up late and watched “Saturday Night Live.” I woke up this morning at 5:59 a.m. I rolled over and went back to sleep and got up at 8:44 a.m., 19 minutes after the sun. I guess the vigil is over.
Sunday morning addendum No. 2:
In reference to notes Saturday (below) about the sun coming up a minute earlier or later each time you go 12 miles east or west. A friend asked me at the party last night whether that means the sun travels 12 miles per hour or the Earth travels 12 miles per hour. I actually had to think about it for a few seconds before I answered, “Depends on whether you are heliocentric or geocentric.” Thanks to Thomas Jefferson for helping me with those terms.
Thomas Jefferson famously boasted that he rose with the sun every day for 50 years. One of the Colonial Williamsburg blogs that I read said Jefferson “told of a 50-year period in which the sun had never caught him in bed; he rose as soon as he could read the hands of the clock kept directly opposite his bed.” Another said, “Jefferson didn’t wake up at a set time every day. Instead he wrote ‘Whether I retire to bed early or late, I rise with the sun.’ Typically, he would get out of bed whenever there was enough light for him to see the clock next to his bed.”
The east wall in our bedroom at Red Oak House in Bismarck’s Highland Acres neighborhood is mostly glass — two large windows, from floor to ceiling, spanning most of the length of the wall. Enough of the first light of the morning seeps through the vertical blinds covering the windows at night to alert me if daytime is coming when I peek out from under the covers, almost always around 6 o’clock, but sometimes, when I’m feeling lazy in the winter, as late as 7. So, I generally know when it’s time to roll over and look at the clock beside the bed which, unlike Jefferson’s, has illuminated numbers, to see if I should get up and start my day.
I’ve pretty much always been an early riser, more so since I retired 10 years ago. Most days now, knowing that as I age, my days are numbered (although I hope the number has at least four digits), I can’t wait to get going on things I want to do, rather than waste precious hours just lying in bed.
And so one day a year or so ago, I wondered to myself how hard it is to actually get up before sunrise every day. Now I don’t really believe that Jefferson rose before the sun EVERY day for 50 years — I’m pretty sure he missed a few here and there — but most days that was his pattern. So I thought I’d just see how I’d do if I tried it.
I set a modest goal — a year. I found a website that gave me the sunrise and sunset times each day and had my IT director, Lilian, bookmark it for me so I only had to make one click in the morning to see if I had beaten the sun. But the windows in my home office also face east, so I had an advantage — I could look up from my desk and see if the sun was peeking through. That way I didn’t have to pull the blinds open in the bedroom and wake up Lillian.
But I wanted the website, so I could record the sunrise time every morning along with the time my feet hit the floor, and it worked for that. If you’re interested, click here.
So a year ago today, on Dec. 21, 2018, I arose from my bed, made a pot of coffee, sat down at my desk, grabbed a 13-month calendar I had received in the mail from Pheasants Forever, and wrote down on it that I had arisen at 7:05 a.m. Then I clicked on my website to see that the sun wasn’t coming up until 8:25 and wrote that on my calendar, too.
Now even though that was the winter solstice, and technically the shortest day of the year, with just eight hours, 32 minutes and five seconds of daylight, it wasn’t the latest sunrise of the year. That wouldn’t come until Dec. 30, at 8:28 a.m. I don’t understand the ways of the sun, but according to my website, every year the sun’s latest arrival is on either the Dec. 29 or Dec. 30, and it then rises at the same time — 8:28 — for the next six days. Then, about Jan. 3 or 4, it starts rising a minute earlier each day.
It’s like, for that six-day period, the Old Mister Sun says,m “I kind of like sleeping in, I’m just going to stay in bed until 8:28 for a few more days.” But the days are longer because the sun sets later each day. On Dec. 21, for example, the sun had set at 4:57 p.m., but by Jan. 4, the last day of the latest sunrise, 8:28, the sun wasn’t going to bed until 5:08, a full 10 minutes later than on the solstice.
There’s a similar period around the summer solstice as well. From June 11 to June 21 this year, the sun got out of bed at exactly the same time every day, 5:48. Finally on June 22, it slept in a minute later.
Now, warning, those times are for Bismarck, North Dakota. The times vary (but the pattern stays the same) as you move east and west. I learned long ago, when I first started hunting ducks and used the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s sunrise and sunset calendar (for Bismarck) that is printed in the hunting proclamation, that the time varies by one minute each time you move 12 miles east or west. So legal shooting time is two minutes earlier in my duck slough out by Sterling than in Bismarck.
I’m boring you with all this because of Jefferson. Jefferson surely knew all that, and much more, because according to an article written by Dr. Michael Rao, president of Virginia Commonwealth University on the schools website, Jefferson “began every morning by engaging in scientific discovery, measuring the temperature, the wind’s speed and direction and the amount of precipitation that had fallen overnight — a process he would repeat twice a day. He would note which birds and flowers he would see, based on the season and the weather conditions. Then he would dress, filling his pockets with scientific instruments that he would use throughout the day wherever he went: scales, a thermometer, a surveying compass, a level, even a miniature globe. He carried a small ivory notebook in which he would record his discoveries throughout the day. At night, he would transcribe those observations into his vast catalog of journals; then erase the writing in the ivory notebook to begin anew when the sun rose again.”
Well, I’m an English major, and I can’t compete with Jefferson, so every morning I just wrote on my calendar what time the sun came up, what time I got up, where I was and the sky condition at the appointed sunrise time every morning. I carried my calendar with me when I traveled. On my calendar, 920 is for our house number on Arthur Drive, Y is for YMCA (more on that later), and I wrote a code for sky conditions to save space:
- S — Sunny.
- C — Cloudy.
- F — Fog.
- R — Rain.
- W — Snow (W for White because S was already taken for Sun).
- And I added a new one in the summer, SM, for smoke, when the Canadian forests were on fire.
On Friday, which was day 365 for my observations, I wrote on my calendar for the last time. And then I added up all the sunny and cloudy days for the year.
What I learned: It was a pretty dreary year. But you already knew that. I was in North Dakota for 341 of the 365 mornings of the year. We spent 24 days out west. Of those 341, I spent six in the hospital with some broken ribs, so while I was up before the sunrise time, I don’t know what the sky was like outside. So here’s the tally of the 335 mornings I recorded when I woke up in North Dakota:
- S (Sunny) — 149 mornings.
- C (Cloudy) — 144 mornings.
- R (Rain) — 20 mornings.
- W (Snow) — 15 mornings.
- F (Fog) — 5 mornings.
- SM (Smoke) — 2 mornings.
While we were in California, Arizona and New Mexico for 24 days, I saw the sunrise 21 mornings, but even though the sun shined, it was the coldest winter on record in Southern California and Arizona. It was clouded-over only one morning, and it was snowing two mornings.
On Tuesday, Feb. 19 we woke up to snow in Bisbee, Ariz., 11 miles north of the Mexican border. We decided to go looking for someplace warmer, so we headed north to Tucson, where we spent a couple of chilly nights before heading east to Santa Fe, N.M.
In Santa Fe we woke up on Saturday, Feb. 23 to 6 inches of snow on our car. That morning I said to Lillian, “If I’m going to freeze my ass off all winter, I want to at least sleep in my own bed.” We left Santa Fe at 9 a.m. Saturday morning and slept in our own bed Sunday night. End of winter vacation.
So Monday, Feb. 25, I got back into my “Winter in Bismarck Morning Routine.” Here’s how it works. I get up between 6 and 7, push the button on the coffee maker, brush my teeth and hair (separate brushes), wash my face, pour a big cup of coffee and sit down at the computer and read about five morning papers.
Then I pour a second big cup of coffee, put the lid on the cup and head for the YMCA, where I walk around and around and around in circles on the track for an hour, pausing every three laps to take a gulp of coffee from my big orange Pheasants Forever coffee thermos cup. I’ve been going to the Y in the morning for five years or so, ever since my last back surgery.
There’s a crew of regulars there in the morning, and we greet each other when we first meet (usually when they pass me the first time — I’m about the slowest one there). I’ve had a lot of time to study them (mostly from behind), and I’ve given most of them nicknames, unbeknownst to them.
- The CPA — A short, trim retired guy who just looks like one, erect, well-groomed (he shaves BEFORE he comes to the Y), although he might have been an engineer.
- The Perfume Lady — She douses herself with something sweet that just stinks up the whole track by the time she’s made her second lap.
- The Little Old Guys — Two fellows about my age who walk together, short, balding, dressed in street clothes — one in what I call a dress shirt and Sansabelt polyester pants, the kind you buy in the American Legion or AARP or Parade magazine ads. And the other in a work shirt and jeans, with things hanging from his belt — a flip phone in a leather case, a multitool knife and a monstrous key ring with at least 15 keys on it. I figure he must have a lot of responsibility somewhere when he leaves the Y in the morning.
- Vanilla Wings and Helmet Head — Two middle-aged ladies who I think might be sisters. Both have pretty severe haircuts, but Vanilla Wings, who apparently pours half a bottle of vanilla extract somewhere on her body before she leaves home, has a couple of loose clumps of hair, one on each side, that flap like wings when she walks. Helmet head is just what it sounds like. Never a hair out of place and never a bounce.
- The Ponytail Girls — Two young women who just jog around and around and around, with seemingly endless endurance, side by side, with their ponytails bobbing up and down.
- National Guard Guy — An erect, fit, 60-ish guy who looks like he just retired from the National Guard.
- The Stocking Cap Guy — Middle-aged fellow who always wears a black hoodie and a stocking cap, no matter the season, and shuffle-jogs around the outer lane, never lifting his feet more than quarter of an inch from the floor.
- The Tax Commissioner — You probably know this guy, too. He wears a bright orange T-shirt and baseball cap, to keep from getting shot, I suppose, even when it’s not hunting season, and can jog for a half hour or more without stopping. I’m impressed.
- And The Lady Who Shouldn’t Wear Tights — ‘Nuf said.
Anyway, I got sidetracked there. I only walk on the track in the winter months. In the summer months, I go to the pool, so instead of walking around and around, I swim up and down and up and down the pool, mostly backstroking this year in deference to my broken ribs, which don’t heal very fast at my age.
There are regulars there, too, but don’t get me started. Well, OK, a little.
Two guys, both older than me, both short, are generally in the locker room when I go in to change and shower. One I call The Talker. He never stops talking, except when he’s actually in the pool swimming laps, and I’m not even sure about that. But if you happen to be in the locker room when he’s there, he just unloads.
For me, 7 a.m. is just too early in the morning for idle chatter. So one morning early in our “locker room relationship,” he said something to me and I pointed to my ear and said, “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you without my hearing aids in.” (Never mind that I don’t wear hearing aids.) He pretty much leaves me alone now, although he often just can’t help himself, and sometimes he’ll start talking to me and then catch himself and say, “Oh, that’s right, you can’t hear me,” and I just smile and nod.
The other one I call The Little Guy because he’s only about 5 feet tall. He’s mostly bald and spends an inordinate amount of time in the locker room. Always naked. Sometimes he’s there getting dressed or undressed when I arrive, and I get my trunks on, go up to the pool and swim for half an hour, and come back down and he’s still there, still naked, standing in front of the sink with his razor and can of Foamy, or holding his bald head under the hand dryer.
I get the feeling these two are just lonely old men who don’t have anyone else to talk to or spend time with, so I smile at them and say good morning and good-bye, but my idea of time well-spent before 9 a.m. is getting my exercise and then getting home to breakfast and starting my day.
The other regular at the pool is this 60-ish woman with short gray hair and a set of headphones, which I guess must emanate their own music. She just puts on a floating belt, walks into the pool on the shallow end and floats around in the deep end, never getting her headphones or her hair wet. I haven’t given her a name yet.
Well, I kind of got sidetracked from my sunrise story by the YMCA there. Sorry. That’s not what I meant to write about this morning. I meant to write about Jefferson and the getting out of bed before sunrise. If he did it for 50 years, well, I’m impressed, but I know he led a full life with much to do and was one of the greatest Americans ever. If getting up early had something to do with that, it’s worth emulating and I’m going to keep getting up with the sun as well.
Oh, I suppose by now, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering how I did in my quest to arise before the sun for 365 days. Well, I wasn’t perfect. The sun caught me in bed three days. So I was up before the sun 362 days. There were four more days when it was very, very cloudy and dark, and the sun never peeked over the horizon, and I just laid in bed for a while. I don’t use an alarm, and for some weird reason, I just didn’t feel like getting up to a gloomy morning.
The earliest sunrise time was at 4:59 (Mountain Time) on June 9, in Medora, N.D. I got up at 4:30 a.m. — I always get up really early in the Bad Lands, often to Lillian’s chagrin if I’m not quite quiet enough — but I remembered, when I went out to watch the sunrise, that it takes about 20 minutes to get over the big bluff on the east side of town, so I got a nice walk around town and a second cup of coffee before the sun peeked over the bluff.
The latest I got up this past year was at 8:15 a.m. on March 23, one of those days when the sun came up at 7:40 and caught me in bed. I think I might have had a bit too much wine March 22. Or something.
In any case, keeping my records for the year was an enjoyable exercise. My 2019 Pheasants Forever Calendar will be a wonderful treasure to revisit from time to time. And as Jefferson said, “Whether I retire to bed early or late,” I’ll keep on rising with the sun.
And that concludes the longest, and likely most boring, story I’ve put in this space since I created The Prairie Blog 10 years ago next month. But I’ve been thinking about this for a year now, and what the heck, it’s Saturday, and you don’t have to go to work today, so you’ve got all day to read this.
Oh, and by the way, the sun was supposed to come up at 8:25 this morning, but I couldn’t see it — it’s really cloudy outside my office window.
Larry Heilmann December 21, 2019 at 12:02 pm
You didn’t mention Jefferson’s other daily ritual. From the age of about fourteen on the first thing he did after rising was to soak his feet in a pan of cold water for ten minutes. That’s according to Clay Jenkinson who should know. Have you any plans to follow suite?Reply