The day’s first rays of sunlight creep over the dark horizon, finding me crossing through the ocean. I have been awake for a couple of hours already, the alarm on my wrist watch jarring me awake after what seems to be only moments after falling asleep. Waking up in the total darkness of early morning can be a challenge, as it is nearly impossible to tell the time without the assistance of a time keeping device. For me, this results in panicked wake-ups before my alarm, scrambling to find my cell phone to ensure that I have not overslept.
This is my daily routine, as I complete the field work for the project I began setting up last fall. By the end of the morning, I will have put in several hours of hiking, listening, and watching, often returning home before my roommates have woken up or eaten breakfast. With these early starts and my seeming inability to take daytime naps (I either cannot fall sleep, or wake up several hours later–completely disoriented and hopelessly groggy), I have taken to the habit of turning into bed before the sun has set on the day, a challenge equally as daunting as napping.
Though the sunrise is far from marking the beginning of my day, the first golden illumination of the landscape is the moment of the day that I look forward to the most. I soon approach my destination, a dark, dense island of trees amidst the sea of sage. Cold fingers gripping an even colder GPS unit, I quietly make my way to a small orange flag that I had placed weeks ago when I first visited this stand of Douglas-fir. Leaning against a tree, I feel the warmth of the sun finally penetrate the cool, still air as I begin a ten minute avian census, recording all the birds I see and hear from this spot. Having completed two other points before sunrise, I know I have several more to complete before my morning is over. There are birds to be seen, and there is nowhere on Earth I would rather be at this moment in time.