It was about an hour before sunrise and it was decision time: try to go back to sleep for a few hours or get up and watch the sunrise in the woods somewhere.
Nine times out of ten, going back to sleep wins out and I wake up with the sun fairly high in the sky. This time was different. A few robins were already awake and singing, and I felt as if trying to sleep would be fruitless. I got up, made a cup of coffee and drove to the nearest park.
It was a good call. Nothing too out of the ordinary happened, but being in the woods when the natural world wakes up is always something memorable. In my younger years (not that long ago, mind you), I would do this quite frequently. Lately, not so much.
The sky was already brightening by the time I hit the trail. It was light enough that I didn’t need a flashlight to see where I was going, but it was dark enough that taking a photograph would yield a blurry, indiscernible image. Not that there was much to see anyway.
But there was plenty to hear. Robins, perhaps cousins of those that had awakened me about half an hour earlier, were the dominant sound. “Cheerily, cheerily, cheer up, cheer up,” over and over from all directions in the pre-dawn woods.
Plenty of other birds (and frogs and insects) joined the chorus, but the robins dominated. Most noticeable, and delightful, were the sounds that weren’t being heard: no airplanes overhead, no trucks downshifting from the highway miles away, no leaf blowers, no lawn mowers, no chainsaws. Just nature. It was cool and calm. Later it would be hot and hectic. But not just yet.
The robins had plenty of company in the morning chorus. I heard the Space Invaders-like song of the veery as well as wood thrushes, mourning doves, titmice, red-bellied woodpeckers, song sparrows, eastern wood pewees, red-winged blackbirds and many other bird songs I could not identify. Bullfrogs added a deep and interesting texture to the chorus.
I walked down a narrow path lined with ferns on either side. The lush ferns stretched far into the woods in all directions. I walked past a pond on my right. Fog rose from the water and man-made wood duck boxes were placed strategically around the edges. Grackles, ever ubiquitous, flew among the cattails.
My face and legs broke through hundreds of spider webs and mosquitoes feasted on the back of my neck. A great blue heron uttered its croaking sound as it flew from a nearby marsh and landed in a tall snag towering over the steaming pond. A friend of mine once said the great blue heron’s “song” reminded him of a dying goat. It’s not that far off.
I noticed a snapping turtle between the trail and the water. Years ago, I would have thought it was a rock, but my older, wiser self knew immediately it was a snapper. I pulled out my phone, took a few steps closer, bent low and grabbed a few photos. It was a willing subject.
Eventually, the natural sounds waned and the unnatural ones took over. The distant humming of the highway reminded me that I, too, had responsibilities to tend to. I reluctantly retreated back to the car and returned home. It was still before 7 o’clock in the morning when I got back. I felt as if I had experienced an entire day already. I never did miss those couple hours of sleep.