Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Hour of the Pearl

This week I’ve been waking up quite early (by my usual standards) – 6 – 6:30 am, but also going to bed quite early too (9 – 9:30 pm). Maybe it’s a residual effect of being in Europe for a week, but I’m trying to stay on the bandwagon and continue this pattern. I even made breakfast a few days: hashed browns with green onions and cheese!

Although my body screams at me to stay comfortably ensconced in bed during the early hours of the morning, once I do get out of bed, it’s the most rewarding feeling. It’s analogous to jumping into a pool on a cold day. You know the water will be icy cold, you hesitate, invisible strings are pulling you back to stay on the ground, but after the initial few moments of shock, it’s the most refreshing feeling ever.

Getting up early I’ve come to experience what John Steinbeck called “the hour of the pearl” – that calm, almost desolate time before the sun breaks over the horizon, and when everything is bathed in mysterious pearly light. Do you know what I’m talking about? It’s the hour when the world stops and takes a breath, before the clamor of the daybreaking and all the activities that follow.

This time of day is a solitary one. Even if there are other people around me, I feel like the hour of the pearl affects us all in a different, unique way – kind of like having your own pearl if you were an oyster, something you keep hidden away and treasure and build layers upon over time. I’ve experienced it while waking up at the crack of dawn to drive up to College Station to use the electron probe at TAMU. Once I got out of the Houston city limits, I was one of the few cars on the road. The countryside was beautiful: the first of the sun through the live oaks, rolling fields, wildflowers in waste places near broken fences, swallows flitting overhead. That scene stays with me forever. Why? There’s no rational reason… it’s probably a scene that millions of people wake up to every morning, but maybe they forget to immerse themselves in it, or are too busy. I’ve experienced the hour of the pearl back home on Long Island, when I wake up before everyone else and sit by the big window at the kitchen table, watching that magical grey light outside. No birds sing yet, everything is hushed, as if waiting.

So I’m glad that I’ve been waking up early and experiencing the hour of the pearl. Somehow, I feel more prepared, if that is the correct word, for the day ahead after I’ve been still and become part of this collective tranquility.

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