When my phone alarm goes off at 4:45, it takes my husband and me a minute to remember why on earth we did this to ourselves. It’s Steve who shuts it off first.
“You still wanna do this?”
I groan in response and he knows me well enough by now to know that this means, “Yes, but I’m not happy about it right in this very moment.”
We’ve done this before. My family vacations in Maine once a year and we always wake early one morning for the sunrise over the water. What makes this one especially difficult is that we didn’t want to turn in early the night before, our first night in a shared AirBnb in East Hampton, a splurge on a house with a pool we could only afford when split between thirteen friends, some of them sleeping on couches or in the pool house. Wanting to make the most of our weekend stay, we stayed in said pool till after midnight, drinking White Claws and floating on our backs, pausing periodically to scoop out the beetles who jumped in on a suicidal mission to get to the pool lights. How long can beetles swim for, anyway? Why are they so drawn to the light? I thought of this as I felt their little legs crawl on my cupped hands before I shook them onto the grass. Someone had to do it, or else we’d just be surrounded by bugs. I pictured them like the those divers or synchronized swimmers, in old-fashioned bathing suits, lining up to dive one after another into the pool.
Now, we text Leah, the only other one in the group who had expressed interest in the excursion the night before, to see if she is still in. She responds “Ugh yes.” She understands me.
We wheel the bikes out of the garage and across the lawn. They are the wide-handled beach cruisers and mine is baby blue. We are in athletic shorts and t-shirts. I only bring a small bag with a sweatshirt that I quickly realize I won’t need and water that my body definitely does need. And my phone to take some photos.
When we first get outside I am worried that we will miss it. It is only two miles to the beach but it’s already so light out. But I have been on summer break, sleeping through the morning and forgetting how the first light comes long before that first sliver of sun. Driving is not an option, because as passing renters we do not have the required parking pass.
Steve is in charge of directions, and we pause a few times for him to check his phone and make sure we make the right turns. When we stop in front of a golf course, I take a lot of photos of Leah. There is a lot of negative space and she is photogenic and the light is perfect. I already know these will be my favorite photographs of the weekend.
I wish I had my film camera. It is so wonderfully quiet. There is no one else out. The roads that are usually congested with Range Rovers and Porsches with bike racks (a combination that made my pick-up-truck-driving husband laugh out loud) are now empty.
Only when we are within earshot of the waves, pushing our bikes through thick sand, do we see a woman walking a cocker spaniel in the low tide, and another couple sitting on the sand drinking White Claws. They are snuggled close together and smiling and I assume they have been up all night. I have seen the sunrise on the beach from this end too, but it’s been a long time.
The sun comes right on schedule, just before 5:30, and we only wait for it for a few minutes. It always surprises me how quickly it moves. You can see it moving if you really look, like when you really look at the minute-hand on an analog clock. I think about how we are only allowed to look directly at the sun in times like this. Stare at the sun in the middle of the day and it’s a suicide mission, like the beetles jumping into the pool.
I kick off my sandals and decide I need to feel the water, at least briefly. It’s cold but comfortable, and it laps around my ankles. Leah and Steve stay on the sand. Somehow we decide it’s time to head back. I don’t remember the conversation, because we didn’t really talk, maybe because of the early hour, maybe out of reverence.
We bike home and at some point Steve speculates about how nice it would be to read for a while while the house is quiet, before anyone else is awake. But we all go back to sleep and don’t wake up until after ten, to the cheerful sounds of friends making frittatas.
I join the girls who have awoken only to go immediately back to the pool, coffee mugs or screwdrivers perched within arms reach on the stone patio. Jess admits that she was up first and cleaned out all the rest of the beetles, and we thank her. They must have died eventually, the ones that we didn’t scoop out.
I learn later that bugs that are drawn to or repelled by light are called phototactic. Those that are repelled by light, like earthworms and cockroaches, are negatively phototactic. Those that are drawn to the light are positively phototactic. This also explains why we woke up at 4:45 a.m. to crawl towards the sun.
Caroline (Higgins) Nyczak (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.