The Rigel was steaming northward along the west coast of Italy early in the morning on Saturday, August 11, 1979. She was bound for Napoli and would soon pass between the Italian mainland and the resort island of Capri. After that, she would head for the pilot station, enter the harbor, and be docked by breakfast time. A day of noise and commotion on the industrial waterfront was sure to follow. For now, though, the peace and quiet and beauty of the Mediterranean prevailed. The Sun showered soft light down upon the Rigel from over the Italian hills; altocumulus clouds billowed over Capri; and wisps of haze gave way to an azure sky that crowned the dark blue water.
The 4:00 to 8:00 watch in the morning was my favorite watch. It started in darkness and then became twilight gradually increasing in luminosity until the Sun rose and the day officially began. The growing light always cast the sea and sky in the most beautiful colors, as if it were all a great work of art in progress. When far enough out at sea, I would take several star sights during the twilight and plot the ship’s position. Then, when the Sun emerged on the horizon, I would take an amplitude and use this to check the gyrocompass error. Along the Italian coast this morning, I used compass bearings and radar ranges of prominent landmarks and lighthouses. It was a wonderful job. I always enjoyed my navigational work, and I loved the majestic beauty that surrounded me.
Whether at sea or ashore, the early morning has long been my favorite time of day. The growing daylight breathes new life into the mostly still sleeping world. The quiet is undisturbed by human activity and pleasantly punctuated by the cheerful music of birds. The air feels cool and clean and fresh. The sea, the sky, the trees, and the buildings radiate soft and supernal colors. Then the Sun rises. Thus inaugurated, the new day brings a new beginning and new opportunities. As the Psalmist notes, “joy cometh in the morning” (Ps. 30:5).
I have witnessed the sublime change from night to day countless times aboard several ships in various parts of the world, though mostly in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, and the experience was always exhilarating and inspiring. In the years since my sailing career, Miss Patty and I have taken the children to the seaside at dawn or shortly thereafter numerous times. They’ve watched the new day begin in Brooklyn, New York, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but their favorite location for daybreak was Eastport, Maine, where the Sun rose over neighboring Campobello Island at about 3:15am in late June. They were awestruck by the combined effects of the summer solstice and the time zone boundary.
I also rise early when working on projects in the house and yard. The cool, fresh air and the soft light of dawn are particularly conducive to such quiet jobs as painting and landscaping. With the neighborhood at its tranquil best and the only sound that of the chirping birds, and with no interruptions from other people, I feel close to Nature and accomplish more than at any other time of day, even with my thoughts wandering back to the morning watch aboard the Rigel or the Waccamaw or the Bartlett.
My most memorable dawn experiences of recent years took place after the birth of our granddaughter, Miss Lydia Elizabeth. In February and again in May of 2016, I traveled to Miss Lydia’s home in distant Alagoinhas, twelve degrees south of the equator in Brazil, and stayed for a week on both occasions. When the baby slept past sunrise, so did her busy parents. From long custom, however, I rose early. Seizing the opportunity afforded by the still sleeping baby, I retired to the front porch with a book. By the dawn’s early light and in the warm tropical air I read Saint Augustine’s Confessions in February and John Gunther’s Death Be Not Proud in May. As I read, the Sun rose over the Brazilian hills in the east, the neighbor’s rooster crowed occasionally, and two men with a horse-drawn cart came down the cobblestone street and collected the recycling. Local color combined with astronomy and “the best books” (D&C 88:118) to create beautiful and memorable mornings. Then Miss Lydia woke up and summoned everyone to her crib.
More typically, during the spring and summer months, I watch the dawn and the sunrise from the parking lot where I now work. It’s not the same as being at sea, but it is very pleasant to see the dawn develop into full daylight as the Sun rises from behind the trees that rim the sea of pavement that is not yet filled with parked cars. A sublime start to a pedestrian workday. As I watch this daily miracle, I am physically present but mentally absent. In my mind’s eye I see myself aboard ship again, noting the time of sunrise and calculating the gyrocompass error, undisturbed by others and surrounded as always by the majestic beauty of the sea and sky. I think of the Master and Chief Engineer of the universe and remember his assertion, “He that seeketh me early shall find me” (D&C 88:83).
Now for some dawn photography. I only wish that I had taken more pictures than I did!
|Two views of Capri on the port side of the Rigel as she sails toward Napoli early in the morning of Saturday, August 11, 1979. Note the early morning mist and the towering altocumulus clouds.|
|Two views of the front porch of Miss Lydia's house on Rua H in Alagoinhas, Bahia, Brazil. Here in the warm tropical dawn I sought to improve my mind by reading two of the world's classics while waiting for the new baby to wake up for the day.|