People make a major fuss about the fabulous sunsets in Montauk, while many snore through the even more enchanting dawns.
In summer and early fall the Montauk dawn is symphonically sensual. It opens about two hours before sunrise with the E-flat warbles of a goldfinch calling to her mate. This vocalizing earns a raspy C-sharp “Pipe down!” reply from a fat, sleepy blue jay, which of course wakes up the English song sparrows, whose girlish gossip wakes up the crows, who scold the world until sunrise, when there is a momentary intermezzo of silent awe, and then daytime life begins. Now and then, a blind musician will bring his fiddle to the beach and quietly play a solo concerto to honor the light he can feel but can only dimly see.
Dawn is different from sunrise. Scientists define astronomical dawn as the first twilight before sunrise, the exact moment the first weakest rays of the sun are visible at one’s particular location on earth, which occurs when the sun is roughly 18 degrees below the horizon. At Montauk, this moment is precisely 1 hour and 55 minutes before sunrise. About an hour later comes nautical dawn, the moment an alert sailor on watch can recognize shapes out of the darkness. Half an hour later comes civil dawn, when people can make out the faces of friends at a distance. These times change every day with the seasons.
Since the beginning, mankind has believed that dawn scares away the haints and demons of the night. Over the Ark of the Torah, the Jews have inscribed the command, “Let there be light!” for the past 6,000 years.
So far so good.
A famous Australian bush poet named Banjo Paterson lived beside the Ozian seas and last century wrote this poem, which rings true for Montauk, too:
Sunrise on the Coast
Grey dawn on the sand-hills -- the night wind has drifted
All night from the rollers a scent of the sea;
With the dawn the grey fog his battalions has lifted,
At the call of the morning they scatter and flee.
Like mariners calling the roll of their number
The sea-fowl put out to the infinite deep.
And far overhead -- sinking softly to slumber --
Worn out by their watching the stars fall asleep.
To eastward, where rests the broad dome of the skies on
The sea-line, stirs softly the curtain of night;
And far from behind the enshrouded horizon
Comes the voice of a god saying "Let there be light."
And lo, there is light! Evanescent and tender,
It glows ruby-red where it was ashen-grey;
And purple and scarlet and gold in its splendour --
Behold, 'tis that marvel, the birth of a day!
TRUE FUN: Heather Bowen D’Agostino is the editor of www.kidmontauk.com which is a delightful selection of things to do, buy and think about for kids who visit Montauk. She provides a day-by-day calendar of music venues; a guide for parks; where to get kids lessons; what restaurants treat kids nicely; and a lot more. Kidmontauk.com is worth reading every day because kids aren’t the only ones who will enjoy child-oriented tips and clues. Above is a picture of Heather on a recent foggy morning at Ditch Plains. She is deep in a lively discussion with Surfer Bob from Air and Speed surfing store..
Where to see the sunrise? The point on which the Montauk Lighthouse stands is as far east as Long Island goes. In New York State, the dawn appears first to Montauk (and the peak of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire catches dawn first in the United States). In Montauk you may watch the sunrise along with many sunrise lovers from all over, including many Korean people who are passionate about the break of day. (Daily sunrise and sunset times are available for Montauk at www.wunderground.com with the ZIP code 11954.
Any ocean-side beach or promontory, including the campground at Hither Hills, the cliffs near Ditch Plains, the east lawns of the Montauk Manor and the penthouse balcony of the “Headquarters” skyscraper in Montauk town are prime dawn watching places.