by Harmon Marien
I live in Eagle River, Wisconsin, in the Nicolet National Forest. With a resident list stacking up to just under 1,400 people, Eagle River and the surrounding small towns and community, known as the “Northwoods”, have an abundance of untouched land and water. Vilas County alone is home to more than 1,300 lakes, and over 70 rivers and streams. While growing up in an area such as Eagle River, you are forced to appreciate nature’s natural beauty, and regularly see plants, animals, and natural phenomena that much of the world will never be able to experience. Some tourists swear that in Eagle River the air is cleaner, the water is clearer, and the sun shines brighter than anywhere they had ever been. For families visiting from the Chicago metropolitan area, this is most certainly true being surrounded by towering trees rather than towering buildings and skyscrapers. Out of all the interactions with nature and the surrounding wilderness up north that I’ve experienced, I feel that the sunrise is the most underappreciated in Northern Wisconsin.
I absolutely love to fish, so up until quarantine many of my experiences with a sunrise were from a boat. I launch my boat in the complete darkness of the night regularly, allowing me to see the sunrise grow out of the deep darkness. Normally the lakes are calm as glass in the morning, with no other boats on the water. The lake’s surface amplifies the sunrise by mirroring onto it, doubling its intensity. Not only that, but the reflection off the water’s surface lights up the wooded shoreline. Streaks of ravishing yellow, tangy orange, and deep red replace the black, star-filled sky with illuminating light. This light not only awakens me watching it but the wildlife that inhabits the very same lakes and forests.
While most people know that sunrises are stunning, they remain “untapped” because of their inconvenient timing. Very few people are willing to wake up at a very early hour to see what they believe they can experience at sunset. While both are very similar, they have distinct, unique characteristics that set them apart. At sunrise most people are asleep, so there is very little human and unnatural noise. The noises and wrestling of birds such as loons, bald eagles, and pileated woodpeckers sing out as the temperature starts to rise, adding to the beauty and experience of a sunrise. The feeling of starting the day with a sunrise is much different than ending the day with a sunset. Personally, I associate the dark with being sad and light with being happy, and I have found myself to be in a better mood after a sunrise than before.
Although I am very aware of the sunrise, I typically am not solely focused on it. Mostly, I keep my focus on how to find and catch fish. Fishing at this hour gives me not only a beautiful background but a learning opportunity to grow and strengthen my fishing skills. The sunrise and fishing are very much synched and related. The stage of the sunrise determines where fish are located, so I do give the sunrise some attention, after all, it is my source of light. This passive type of “sunrise watching” is much different than conscious sunrise gazing. If these sights alone from a sunrise don’t appeal to you and make you want to wake up earlier, maybe the health benefits will. Studies have shown that “early birds” are typically more goal-oriented and more proactive. This is a result of not only waking up early but waking up with a purpose. Waking up early is a decision, and as a result of this people who wake up early seem to have a better sense of control. It allows your body to wake up naturally, instead of being startled out of deep REM sleep. Studies also show that specifically watching a sunrise, not the sun itself, can boost your positive energy to motivate you for the day, as well as benefit your eyesight.
After a few weeks of quarantine, I felt like a slug. I was waking up at ten o’clock every day and going to bed, at the earliest by midnight. For some, this may be normal, but for a typically early riser like me, this was not quite the case. I ended up not doing much during the day and just lying around. This was accepted because I didn’t have anything to do at home and couldn’t leave to go anywhere else. I decided one night that I was going to go to bed around ten and wake up at five in the morning to watch the sunrise, which I had not seen in many long weeks. The following morning, I woke up and walked down to the dock, sat patiently, and watched the sunrise on the completely still, flat lake. The sun peeked over the horizon of old, tall maple trees crossways from the dock. Although I could not see the sun right away, its light beamed up into the sky, flashing fluorescent colors all above me. It was comforting and relieved every feeling of anxiousness that came along with being cooped up in the house for weeks. Once the sunrise had fully blossomed, and the colors faded away into the light blue, wispy sky, I proceeded to have the most productive day of my quarantine up until this point. I delegated myself to tasks such as finishing the chores, picking up the house, and helping my parents with their daily tasks. I was energetic and positive and felt completely renewed and refreshed. From that day forward I woke up at five every morning and worked my way towards falling asleep at eight or nine at night. I noticed that even though I slept the same number of hours as before I changed my habits, I slept much noticeably better during my “sunrise phase.” Biologist Christopher Randler says that how energized we feel in the morning has less to do with how long we sleep, but rather when we go to bed. He says that the earlier we fall asleep, the more productive we will be the following day.
Sunrises are stunning and a great representation of how incredible nature really is. They are a positive way to start your day and allow you to make the most of the day to come. Waking up early to watch the sunrise has greatly benefited me by motivating me to be more driven, providing me with a positive outlook, and granting me to be all-around happier each day. Not only this, but they can be seen across the world, not just in the “Northwoods.”