The joy of dawn

By Arvid Huisman


I love Iowa sunrises. At this stage of my life I confess that I don’t see as many as I used to, but I do love an Iowa sunrise.


For many years, I was an early riser. Early, as in 4 a.m. early. As tough as it was to get moving that soon in the morning, I fell in love with dawn. That brief interval when the fiery orb first peaks over the eastern horizon and the birds sing their own Hallelujah Chorus is, in my opinion, the most beautiful time of the day.


My mother is an early riser and I inherited her time clock. I have telephoned her before 7 a.m. to find that she already had laundry on the line and a batch of homemade bread in the oven. It is probably more than coincidental, then, that I gravitated toward early morning employment.


My first non-farm job was a Sunday morning motor route for the Des Moines Sunday Register. At 3:45 a.m. each Sunday, I drove 10 miles into Webster City to pick up my bundles and then delivered newspapers to customers on a 75-mile route in central Hamilton County.


The journey always began in the dark, but over the next three-and-a-half hours the countryside underwent a metamorphosis — from dark and desolate to bright and beautiful. Even on a cloudy or rainy morning, the transformation was fascinating.


Early on, you might see an occasional possum or raccoon. Later, you could see majestic cock pheasants, their rich colors glistening in the tangerine hues of the rising sun, sitting on their roadside thrones. Farm dogs of different breeds and colors chased my car as I passed through their domains.


During the winter months the new daylight might reveal a grove of trees painted with hoary frost. A spring sunrise might reveal long rows of tiny corn and bean plants peeking out of the black earth. In the summer, sunrise might reveal a flooded creek (pronounced “crick” in my world.) And in the fall, of course, sunrise introduces an explosion of autumnal colors.


Dawn brings out the best in many people. The folks you meet at 5 a.m. are generally tickled to see another human and conversations are usually pleasant.


Motor route procedures called for the newspapers to be delivered to a roadside receptacle, generally a mailbox. For a handful of elderly subscribers, however, I made an exception and delivered their paper to their door. One of them, a widow named Jenny, greeted me at her back door every Sunday morning. Her farm was about mid-way on my route and a pleasant chat with Jenny helped break up the long, slow drive.


When I got a job with more hours, I gave up the motor route and, frankly, enjoyed the extra hours of sleep on Sunday mornings. About the time I began missing sunrises, however, I was assigned the sign-on shift at the radio station in Webster City.


To allow time to make stops at the police and fire stations to gather overnight news and then get everything ready for a 6 a.m. sign-on, I had to roll out by 4 a.m. At this time I was still single and attempting to maintain some semblance of a social life. As a result, there were many mornings when I had little more than two or three hours of sleep before two alarms — a wind-up and an electric back-up alarm — coaxed me out of bed.


Each day began with a necessary dose of caffeine which was just kicking in when I hit the streets and again I discovered the beauty of dawn. The radio station’s studios were located on a hill near a wooded area on the edge of town and during the warmer months I was greeted by an avian anthem as I parked my car and walked to the building. From the parking lot I had a spectacular view of the sun ascending over the Iowa countryside.


Later, when I got a job that started at 8 a.m., I found that I had been ruined. I couldn’t sleep past 5:30 a.m. if I tried. Over the years, I have remained an early morning person.


Don’t misunderstand, I don’t roll out at 4 a.m just to see the sun rise. Occasionally, however, an early morning trip allows me to enjoy watching the sun make its daily ascension and hearing nature greet the new day.


The psalmist wrote, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!”  I like to imagine that this particular psalm was created in the mind of David as he watched the sun rise over the Judean hills while his flock stirred from a night of rest.


One of the real joys of dawn, of course, should be the realization that we have lived to see a new day. Not all have been so fortunate.


(Arvid Huisman is retired after a lengthy career in the newspaper industry and as a director for The Salvation Army in Central Iowa. He is a regular contributor to Iowa History Journal. To purchase an autographed copy of his latest book, “More Country Roads,” send $16.50 to Huisman Communications, P.O. Box 139, Blairsburg, Iowa, 50034.)