When the repetitive beeping of my alarm rouses me, it seems like the punchline of an exceptionally cruel joke. The room is pitch black; the glowing red numbers on the clock read 3:00 am. I know I need to get out of bed if I’m going to make it to the field site for sunrise… but the sheets feel like they’re made of Velcro, pulling me back down every time I make a move to get up.
When I finally do manage to put my feet on the floor and stand upright, I’m as uncoordinated as drunk toddler. I stumble around my room with my eyes half closed. Despite the fact that I always lay my clothes out neatly the night before, getting dressed seems to take twice as long as it should. I drop items of clothing, tie my hiking boot laces wrong, and even occasionally try to put both my feet into the same pant leg.
It doesn’t get any easier when I finally get myself out the door. The world is eerily quiet and still at 3 am. The occasional person I do encounter looks startled to see me, and often avoids my eyes. It’s very clear that anyone with any sense is sleeping, and it’s hard not to let my thoughts drift back to the warmth and comfort of my covers. I aim myself directly towards the nearest source of caffeine – but as I move farther away from my bed, I can feel myself getting crankier.
People who know me often ask why I choose to work with birds. After all, I’m the first to admit that I am the opposite of a morning person. So what on earth possessed me to study animals that start their day long before the sun has properly risen – and even have the gall to greet the dawn with a song?
It’s a question I’ve never really been able to answer. And it’s been on my mind a lot this summer, because I’m back in the field for the first time in several years. Each day, as I drag myself out of bed in the pre-dawn darkness, every cell in my body resisting, I find myself seriously questioning my life choices. (In my defence, I’m not sure being a morning person would make a difference, because frankly 3 am can’t be considered ‘morning’.)
But over the past few weeks, I’ve realized something. I can’t deny that I really hate getting out of bed before the sun. But I also can’t deny that once I’m up, I’m glad to be awake.
The day has a very different feel first thing in the morning. The world is new and fresh, and there’s a sense of infinite possibility. The entire day stretches ahead like a blank canvas, as yet unmarred by the small disappointments and frustrations that inevitably pile up over the hours. As I drink my coffee and watch the sun peek over the horizon, I feel like I can do almost anything. It’s exhilarating…and perhaps even worth the struggle it takes to get myself there each day.
Nevertheless: on my days off, I’m more than happy to let the sun win the race!