Saturday, October 3, 2009


When you live in the Sonoran Desert, you are likely to become more acquainted with dawn if you enjoy spending time outdoors, because this is the easiest way to tolerate or avoid the heat much of the year. May through October are months that have highs in the hundreds most days, so getting out before the sun comes up is what many hikers, bikers and runners do to avoid heat stroke and exhaustion. Five in the morning works well. I've always been an early riser, but six years living in Phoenix has led me to experience more dawn hours than all the rest of my years.

By 5:30 most mornings, 6:00 at the latest, I am up and outside either hiking or running. The hiking wouldn't happen if I didn't have a friend to meet twice a week. Caroline and I, plus dozens of other fitness-minded people avoiding the heat, begin our bi-weekly trek often by headlamp, like mountaineers on an alpine start. You can see the little lights bobbing along the switchbacks up the well trod trail leading up Thunderbird Mountain, a silhouette against the urban lit sky rising five hundred feet from the valley floor. On mornings around the full moon, we can navigate by moonlight.

At this time of year, the morning sky begins to glow about half way up the trail, backlighting peaks to the East. We often witness the magical moment when the orange crest of the sun bulges up out of the hills. Colorful city lights wink beneath the orange glow until the sun fully emerges, drowning them out.

Besides the cool air and light, dawn is a time when many desert animals are most active. Owls, nighthawks and bats are making their breakfast flights. The occasional snake moves off the trail out of our way, disappearing into rocks. Coyotes howl and flow through the prickly shrubs on their way to a daytime resting spot. Black throated sparrows, towhees and cactus wrens call to each other, announcing their territory or calling for mates.

For many hikers, dawn is a ritual, a prayer. We greet the day with hope, chatter about our joys and woes, much as the birds may be doing. Some run. We are grateful to be healthy and able to walk the rocky trail, feeling our hearts beat, breathing deeply desert air. Each dawn is a gift.

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