October 6th, 2005

Brad @ Burning Man

Dawn is Over-Rated

Because of a temporary side-effect of a medication I'm taking, my sleep schedule has gone semi-random again. (From past experience, I imagine it'll be more normal in a couple of days to maybe a week. No big.) For the last several days, this has taken the odd form of my going through two days per day. I can't sleep much more than 3 to maybe 4 hours at a pop, but then I can't keep my eyes open for much more than 8 to 10 hours at a time. So it's as if I were going through a full diurnal cycle every 12 hours or so. One of the effects this has had is that, for the first time in my life, I've had quite a few days in a row where I was fully awake during the sunrise. I cannot stress strongly enough how weird this feels for me. I've always, always for as long as I can remember, all the way back to childhood, been naturally Night Crew. Left to myself, I wake up between noon and 2pm, and fall asleep around 4am. Any strain from staying up to 6am is almost imperceptible; it doesn't get to be a real chore to stay awake until around 7am.

And yet, here for several days in a row now, I've been waking up (again) between 2am and 4am, which leaves me showered, shaved, dressed, breakfasted, and wide awake when the sunrise rolls around. I've even been outdoors several of those times, walking to the grocery store, the pharmacy, etc. Which means that I've finally had an experience that poets, singers, painters, and people from all walks of life have recommended to me as a thing of absolutely sublime beauty, one of the wonders of human life, an experience not to be missed: dawn breaking.

It's over-rated. As someone who's very familiar with sunset, and comparing it to sunrise, sunset is superior to sunrise in almost every way.
  1. Weather: OK, during the hottest two to four months of the year (depending on your tolerance for heat), sunrise is the nicest part of the day, because it's the coldest. But for another six to ten months of the year (depending on your tolerance for cold, and mine is very low so for me it's ten), sunrise happens at the worst part of the day, the coldest. I've been outside at 5:00 am or 6:00 am in late fall, trying to catch a meteor shower. I thought I was going to die. Sunset, by contrast, happens several hours after the hottest part of the day. For most of the year, that's a perfect time to stretch out in a hammock, or a lawn chair, or on the roof, or on a blanket on the lawn, and actually watch the sunset. Sunrise, on the other hand, happens at a time of the day where all I can stand to do is glance at it while trying to get from someplace warm to someplace warm.

  2. People You're Sharing it With: Well, let's see. Almost everyone is awake for sunset. At sunrise, though, all you get are completely exhausted third-shifters, the most obnoxious type-A corporate jerks, groggy victims of the aforementioned corporate jerks, and retirees.

  3. Mood: No contest. With the exception of a few die-hard morning people, almost everybody who is awake for the sunrise is groggy. They're rushed and in a hurry, because they're in trouble if they run late. And both the groggy people and the natural morning people are distracted from the beauty of the sunrise because they're planning their work day, talking on their cell phone while stuck in traffic, or both. Sunset happens at a much mellower time. The work day is over for most people. That brings a certain sense of relief, if you're lucky a certain amount of satisfaction, and for all practical purposes the end of the part of the day where things are timed to the minute. That means you can take a few minutes to enjoy the sunset, and not worry about it getting you fired, or your pay docked, or whatever.

  4. View: The physics of the two scenes is mostly identical. But there are differences. Sunrise happens at the moment of highest relative humidity, when most of the year there's dew and/or frost on the ground. I had no idea how weirdly beautiful dew on the grass can be when the sun is at such a low angle, so yeah, that's kind of nice. But it doesn't hold a candle to the beauties of sunset. Under most conditions, the cloud cover increases during the day, from convection, which maximizes the range of colors displayed and increases the amount of banding in the sunset. But the decisive advantage of sunset over sunrise, visually, is man-made: the beautiful transition from full light to full darkness, accented by artificial lighting. By sunrise, the lights are mostly off, because nearly all the world is asleep. But during the hour or so of dusk right around sunset, the eye still sees most of the shapes and colors of the daytime world. But overlaid on all of that, there's a sprinkling of jewel-like lights, from windows, street lights, and every commercial sign out there. It gives the lighted parts of the world an almost psychedelic clarity and impact.
So, am I missing something here? Or has all this rhapsodizing about the beauties of rosy-fingered dawn been a con job by people who were trying to fool me into being OK with having to get up when the type-A jerks do? What's the deal here?