Considering The Bright Side Of A Late Sunrise

Originally published WBUR’s Cognoscenti, 11/4/2016

It doesn’t take much time or attention to notice the days are getting shorter. This time of year we lose about two and a half minutes of light a day. The sun is setting earlier, rising later. And so it goes for the next few months, until Winter Solstice, when the perpetually dark and frozen North Pole begins its long, slow lean back toward the sun.

Yes, the road ahead is looking cold and dim, but there is a silver lining: With tomorrow comes the latest sunrise of the year. (I know what you’re thinking, but the latest sunrise isn’t during the Winter Solstice, mainly because of daylight saving time.) Even without that artifice, the latest would still be in January, given our latitude and something beyond my pay grade to explain: the equation of time. That confusion aside, Saturday morning, the last before daylight saving ends, is what I like to call “Sunrise for the Casual Observer,” clocking in at a rather reasonable 7:23 a.m.

For much of the working world and those with kids, 7:23 might as well be noon. They’ve been out slogging through darkness since the stars were out and there wasn’t even a glow on the horizon. But for those who aren’t usually outside or even awake for a sunrise, now is your chance to enjoy sunset’s less popular sibling.

Before you bundle up and head outside, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

As with sunset, when it’s fun to watch that giant red disk dip out of sight, the real fireworks begin when the sun is below the horizon. Those waning rays light up clouds at every level and stack banded gradients on the horizon. Unfortunately for those hoping to catch the sunrise, this means that the pretty bits happen well before the sun is up. To catch the full show, get there a half hour ahead of time, right around the beginning of civil twilight. The added time outside on a cold November morning adds a degree of significance that borders on the spiritual when the first rays of light bend over the horizon and you feel them touch your face.

It’s also worth putting some thought into venue. Most early-morning veterans experience sunrise in motion, from a train or in a car. While this can offer momentary appreciation, if you have the luxury of time, park yourself somewhere with nice, open, eastern exposure. It could be on a hill, near an open field or along the water. The more water you can get between you and the eastern sky the better. I live on a beach, so I’m spoiled in this regard.

Lastly, keep in mind that clouds can make a sunrise more often than they can break one. Don’t get disheartened when you look out the window and the it’s not crystal clear out. Blue skies are great for most outdoor pursuits, but not in this case. A sunrise on a clear day is enjoyable, but fleeting. Clouds are your friend. In fact, heavy clouds and even passing showers could mean the sunrise of your life.

Nature gives us two free shows a day. Most of us are able to catch the latter without much effort. This upcoming, artificially late sunrise gives us all a chance to pause for a moment and bask in the former. Sunsets may be romantic, but a sunrise is poetic. Light. Warmth. Potential. Literally, a new day. It may kick off a newfound appreciation that carries through next June, where you can set the alarm in hopes of catching the year’s earliest sunrise at 5:07 a.m.

Suddenly 7:23 doesn’t sound so bad.