Early bird or night owl? Sunrise or sunset?
My instant reaction is to unequivocally align myself with the night owl crew. There’s no contest. But then, slipping far too easily into Smeagol mode, I stop and ask myself why?
“That’s easy, mornings represent dragging yourself out of bed to go to work. Sunset is the end of the day; a time to kick back and relax.”
“But you’ve not worked 9-5 since 2003. That doesn’t apply any more.”
“That’s not strictly true. Most days we get up at 7:30 and are at our desks by 08:30. We mark the end of the day with a walk in the forest followed by a beer. See, even now mornings equal work, evenings mean fun things.”
“But you love your work, you enjoyed it in its previous incarnation as well.”
“You’ve got a point,” my subconscious does have a point. And it’s not finished. “You like to say you’re the sort of person who prefers to look forward rather than back. Surely mornings are the time to look forward, whereas night is for reflection?”
That’s the sucker punch. I can’t bat that one away easily.
Pull on a pair of hiking boots in the morning and an anticipatory thrill zings through the laces at the thought of what unexpected treasures lie ahead on whatever dirt track/forest path/rocky road leads into a promising distance.
The evidence, when I mentally compile it, is as abundant as wild flowers in hedgerows on a spring day.
The taste of bitterly strong coffee as dawn breaks across a Jurassic plateau in a Chilean wilderness whilst we scan the vista on the lookout for condors rising on air currents from the valley floor below.
Long, slender necks of a brace of giraffes silhouetted against against a dark African sky which is rapidly retreating as the first of the sun’s flaming fingers flash across it.
Sometimes morning bursts forth in spectacular fashion, delivering experiences which sandblast rousing-at-dawn-doziness into oblivion. But mostly it’s simple pleasures that are like an invigorating splash of cool spring water on skin which is still fuzzy and warm from being caressed by a soft pillow. The satisfyingly crisp crunch of frosty grass underfoot on a brisk March morning in Galicia; the aroma of woodsmoke from fairy tale cottages in the Black Forest; misty blankets reluctant to bid farewell to flowery meadows on a valley floor in Slovenia.
On occasions, there’s the pleasure of encountering fellow early risers on the path; a squadron of woodpeckers at an empty picnic zone outside of Vilaflor on Tenerife; the musical clanging of bells around the necks of goats heading to pasture on Gran Canaria; a bright-eyed fox emerging from ferns on a path leading to the Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden; a startled doe on a route to an enchanted forest in Austria. Little moments which etch themselves on the walls of my memory.
A world in the throes of waking up is a magical realm to explore.
In warm months, morning is the hiker’s friend – the freshness of the day making ascents easier and the kiss of the soft sun most welcome. By mid afternoon that kiss on open ground where there’s no shade is akin to being rudely assaulted by unwelcome advances, and ascents have me railing at the golden orb, face of beet and sweat cascading from the mountain of my forehead, shouting “leave me alone, damn you.” On hot sunny days, morning is the good cop, afternoon the bad.
“But when you reach the end of the trail, what happens then?” I try to trip up my subconscious with the question.
“Ah, you mean that glorious end of route beer – the best tasting beverage there is – and the toast to a most excellent day followed by recounted recollections of all seen and experienced? An exquisite pleasure to be sure,” he agrees and then throws a curve ball. “ And then what do you do?”
He has me again. What happens is we consult our notes, spread our map across the table and plan our route for the following day. After a pleasurable wallow looking back over the adventures of the day which lasts as long as our post-hike beer, our gaze is once again turned forward to what may lie beyond that horizon.
Sunsets or sunrise? Mountains or coast? City streets or country lanes? Michelin dining or food from a street stall? Who dictated we had to choose either or anyway?
There’s no yin without yang.