Every day the sun rises but today was exceptional. 14 and I drove to Haleakala National Park, drove to the summit of the world’s largest dormant volcano at 10,023 feet to witness the sunrise. It was a windy road and often it seemed we would plunge into darkness at the next bend.
At first, I was puzzled at the lack of stars. I thought it would be like a desert night sky — or, what I imagine desert night skies to be. Finally, when we reached the summit, my puzzle was answered. Over us was a canopy of stars. I had never seen so many! 14 has a Starmap astrology app on his iPhone and it went crazy mapping all that we were seeing.
The only discomfort, and it was a big one, was that it was a good 20 degrees colder than the rest of Maui. Note to self and future visitors: dress like it’s winter on the East Coast for maximum comfort. We arrived around 5:30 and sunrise wasn’t until 7. I stayed in the car turning the heat on and off so not to run the battery down on the car. 14 would come and go from shooting photos to defrost.
At 6:10 we went up to the observatory where the security guard informed us that it would be another 50 minutes. Down we went, back into the car. But sunrise is misleading. By 6:30 all the stars had been blinded out of view with sunlight. The eastern horizon was already orange and red. It was dawn except for the sighting of the sun. At 6:45 we went back. At first I stayed in the observatory but wanting to share it with 14, I ventured out into the cold.
Standing there, it was as if we were in a movie, a story where the sun had not been seen for decades. It was as if a silent congregation had assembled to be blessed. There could be no greater prayer than silent homage to a rising sun. In Hinduism, darshan is often translated as praying but its literal meeting in Sanskrit is “to see.” And that’s exactly what it felt like: a darshan to surya (‘sun’). I wondered how it would be to be able to do a surya namaskar with the first rays of light on a land. Next time if I come in thermals, I’ll try it out!
As we stood, all freezing, yearning for the warmth of the sun, I wondered how much we’ve destroyed our earth when all of nature just ebbs and flows ready to nurture us humans who have such a narrow gateway of comfort, so needy for the right combination of molecules in order to breathe and merely survive. And how we strut about like lords of the planet as if we weren’t so dependent on the right mixture of molecules to make this planet habitable.
I thought about ancient sun rituals in every culture that were meted out by monotheistic religions and the advance of industry to foo-foo “paganism.” At least there’s “environmentalism” to bring nature back into our lives, to remind us of the traditions we had long adhered to but forgotten in our race towards a progress measured only by technology and industrialism.
Then, thought stopped. A dot appeared on the horizon as Surya finally graced us, presenting itself after its half hour of previews with colorful strips across the horizon. People got excited as if they had never seen it before. A dot at first rose into an ever growing orb of blinding glowing ball. The irony about a sunrise is that when you finally see it, you aren’t able to look at it anymore. You can only welcome it.
The sun rises every day, but today was exceptional. Isn’t that how all discoveries are made?