By Barry Rueger
Published: Globe and Mail
December 30, 2022
This morning, I awoke at 6 a.m. The sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean was barely starting to show itself. It was dark and cold, and I stumbled downstairs to make coffee. And to wonder why, suddenly, I was waking up so darned early, day after day, week after week.
All my life I’ve been a night person, a late sleeper, someone who honestly despises mornings. Over years of working in events, in restaurants, or in radio, I have always been able to arrange my life to avoid rising early. This has been less of a choice than my natural state of being. My body and mind just weren’t designed to switch on before noon.
Now, in Nova Scotia, everything has changed. By 6:30 a.m. most days, my wife Susan and I are both awake, drinking coffee and eating toast in bed, our cat Beatrice between us. We’ll already be working on our laptops, and sharing ideas and plans for the day.
We’re both left asking the same question: What happened? The only change in our lives has been leaving France for a house at the edge of the ocean in Western Head, N.S.
Ours is the last home on the road to the Western Head Lighthouse. The house was built in the late 1800s, then added to several times, and has found the balance between modern living and 19th-century charm. We have many windows, and can see the breakers rolling in from three sides of the house. We hear the wind and the pelting rain, and we’re now awaiting with excitement the first real hurricane-force winds. We can’t help but feel a primal attachment to the weather and a respect for the changes that happen from one hour to the next. You can’t ignore the outdoors in such a place.
Nova Scotia weather is immediate and intense, and despite the cloud, rain and wind, it’s somehow joyful. We can wake up to intense blue skies on one day, or great overwhelming columns of white clouds on the next. We’ve become remarkably conscious of the patterns of light and dark. In a few hours we can go from bright sunshine to pitch-black skies punctuated with thousands of bright shiny stars.
But these mornings! Why so early? It’s not just the weather, the Atlantic, or the dramatic difference between the dark of night and the light of day. It’s not about exchanging urban life for rural. I’ve spent years living in the country, and never before have my nocturnal habits been disturbed.
Part of it is about finding the time to just stop, look, listen and enjoy what each day has to offer us. People here don’t rush, but they are not slow either. Things get done, and get done in about the time you would expect.
Yet every person that we know here will stop what they’re doing, look you in the eye and just settle into a conversation. They’ll ask where you’re from, whether you’re “just visiting” (and that’s the big question in a place where families can trace their history back for centuries) and where, exactly, your house is. The first time that they say, “Oh yeah, I know that house,” it surprises you. The third or fourth time, you accept that this is just how things are.
Since moving here, I’ve learned that if deciding on a plumber or a roofer takes me a month, or six months, that’s okay. I feel like I can slow down, take one step at a time and consider every decision for as long as it takes.
That space, time and freedom means that I can rise early. I can allow myself to just sit and enjoy the sunrise, to think and plan my day, and perhaps allow myself a third cup of coffee just because I have the time.
These early mornings are becoming a ritual. For the first time, I find I have the space to order my thoughts, file some away for later and deal with some right now. And when my brain feels like it’s close to capacity, it gives me permission to stop, look out my windows at the sea, the sky and the sun, and let the true world in front of me clear my head.
Which is wonderful. But why am I waking up so early? I don’t have a fixed schedule. I’m not heading down to the boats. I don’t have a desk job to be at by 9 a.m.
Ultimately it feels as if I’m doing this because it’s what you do if you live here in Western Head, on the coast of the Atlantic, in Nova Scotia. Just as watching the sunrise is now a normal part of each day, aligning my body rhythms with the cycles of the sun and sky is simply the best and healthiest thing to do.
After decades of fighting the morning, I’ve found that it’s something that unexpectedly and definitely works for me. After fitting my life into schedules that perhaps made waking difficult or impossible, I find that I can trust my body and my soul to choose when to rise – and when to sleep.
Now, when I look at the people around me in Western Head, and in Nova Scotia, I understand that we all share the same attachment to the sky, to the sea and to the weather. We’ve learned that our best happiness comes from recognizing the power of our natural world, and from integrating our lives into those rhythms – allowing us to be scheduled by the natural world around us, not by our alarm clocks.