Early Mornings – A Special Morning Canvas (c. 1954)

The Farm Pond was formed from a wooded swamp off of Diascund Creek.

The Farm Pond was formed from a wooded swamp off of Diascund Creek.

Since my earliest childhood, I have enjoyed something about each morning. Perhaps I was influenced by my father. Living on a farm meant—for him, and therefore me, too—having to start at sunrise to complete all of the tasks demanded to keep a farm running—plowing, planting, harvesting, delivering and selling farm goods, feeding animals, maintaining equipment and all of the supporting tasks that most of us still do—even if not on a farm.

Of course, getting ready for school was one of my morning chores. My father was my “alarm clock.” At the appointed wake-up time, he would lean into my room and say, in a clear, but not loud, voice, “It’s six o’clock. Time to get up.” That was it. That was my alarm. There was no snooze button. There was no second chance. He went off to get his day started; he expected me to get up and get started too. Should I fall back to sleep, I could easily miss school. But, when you know the alarm only goes off once, you don’t go back to sleep.
For me, all mornings are good, but not all mornings are the same.

A view of the main part of the farm pond. The dam is on the left side of the photo.

A view of the main part of the farm pond. The dam is on the left side of the photo.

My father and I frequently went fishing on Saturday mornings—an activity that I looked forward to. We actually had two good locations for fishing, the Chickahominy River that bordered the westerns side of the farm or the farm pond. The farm pond had been a ten-acre wooded swamp off of Diascund Creek. In the early 1940s, the swamp was dammed off and allowed to fill with water to what would have been the high water level at high tide. I liked the pond. The bottom was dark, dark green with underwater plants, but the water was clear.

Where ever we decided to fish, the objective was to be on the water at the very earliest light of dawn—the idea was that fish would begin to stir and be hungry. The best fishing was always during that first two hours of the morning.

But “fishing” was about a lot more than fish. My father and I talked—we talked about anything and everything, in hushed tones so as not to disturb the quiet of the morning or scare the fish. Mostly we just shared the morning.

The boat was tied to a tree in shallow water. We pulled it up on the gently sloping bank and loaded our fishing gear. As we slipped the boat back into the water, we spotted two small raccoons prowling along the opposite bank hunting for breakfast in the first hint of daylight.

The frogs were just ending their nightly chorus and gradually quieted to an occasional croak as daylight began to take hold. A great blue heron stalked the shallow waters, hunting for one of those frogs.

The dead tree with the active osprey nest was the centerpiece of the pond for the entire 20 plus years that I lived on the farm.

The dead tree with the active osprey nest was the centerpiece of the pond for the entire 20 plus years that I lived on the farm.

As we glided out on the water, ospreys circled and screeched overhead, upset that we were fishing at the base of the tall dead cypress that supported their nest.

My father pointed—I followed the direction of his signal to see a muskrat gliding along the dark waters of the pond, head above the surface, off on some morning mission. My father lightly splashed the water with the paddle. Startled, the muskrat made a quick, graceful arched-back dive and continued to swim under water for another ten or fifteen yards, then surfacing to continue on its course.

Birdsongs filled the trees and shrubs that surrounded the pond. An occasional kingfisher would dive headlong into the pond and then take flight with a silvery minnow in his beak.

The water under the boat was dark, but clear. We could see perch, bluegill, bass and an occasional pike—or pickerel—flash by, shooting a reflected beam of early morning sunlight from its shiny scales. The pond was both serenely quiet and at the same time filled with the constant song of life.

A small flock of ducks were diving for food in a shallow cove. The low cacophony of “quacks” sounded like a group of people on a picnic, all talking at the same time.
We glided quietly toward our favorite fishing spot with a gentle, noiseless push on the paddle. Still, our movement startled a deer on the bank, and with a loud “huff” it disappeared into the woods.

Other than hushed tones of conversation and the repeated whir of the fishing line spinning off of the reel when we cast a lure toward where we were sure “the big one” was hiding, we made little noise. Then, a hungry bass would charge up through the surface of the water, and, with a noisy splash, take the lure.

The pond was full of stumps and underwater tree limbs, and it was too easy for a fish to dive down, under or behind one of these hazards and cause the fishing line to snag or break. The job of the other person was to maneuver the boat away from any hazards and keep the fish from crossing under the boat.

On the best mornings, we would catch eight or ten nice fish. We kept them alive on a stringer hanging in the water. At the end of the trip, we would select two or three nice fish to take home for breakfast and release the others to fight another day.
Those were very special mornings.

Footnote on Mornings

The Angry Cat Sunrise viewed from Cape May, NJ. I shared the view with the two seagulls--their appearance in the photos was a happy accident.

The Angry Cat Sunrise viewed from Cape May, NJ. I shared the view with the two seagulls–there appearance in the photos was a happy accident.

Mornings have continued to be special for me. Later, when I became a pilot, first in the Air Force, and later for a small regional airline, I always preferred the earliest flights and requested the first flight of the day. For me, combining flying in smooth, cool morning air and watching the progress of a spectacular sunrise was just about as good as life could be (if I couldn’t be fishing with my father).

Now my focus is on photography, and early mornings are still my favorite time of day. Morning light has a special quality that enhances almost any landscape. I often recommend early morning light for portraits, but most of my clients are not interested in getting up at 0400 to prepare for a sunrise photo shoot.

I look for opportunities to capture sunrises—for me, they are every bit as spectacular as sunsets, without the crowds. One of my favorite photos is a sunrise off the coast of New Jersey at Cape May. It was spectacular, and I was the only one there to witness it—except for a couple of seagulls.

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3 Responses to Early Mornings – A Special Morning Canvas (c. 1954)

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  3. Melissa Shaw-Smith says:

    Lovely piece of writing–I was out fishing with you on those early mornings. Thanks for sharing.

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