Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 27, 2002

By the dawn's early light

On Saturday - "Day Star Day" - I set our alarm for 5:30 so we could watch the sunrise with Katie and our youngest niece Larisa.

"Day Star Day," the day after the summer solstice on June 21, was named by Jack Horkheimer, an astronomer who hosts "StarGazer" on PBS. On his show the weekend before, Horkheimer said most of us have never really experienced a sunrise, especially in our high-tech society.

"Oh, yes, there are millions of you out there who get up at the crack of dawn to get ready for a day's work - farmers starting their chores, commuters catching their trains or jamming the expressways as the sun slowly creeps up over the horizon," he said. "But that is not experiencing a sunrise because to most people, sunrise is only a peripheral event and not the center of attention. So that's why we set aside one day each year as "Day Star Day" so you can experience one of the grandest events in nature ..."

The girls thought his idea sounded like great fun.

I jumped out of bed with a jolt when the alarm went off. 5:30 is not my normal waking time and it was a bit of a shock to be awakened so rudely - and on a weekend at that!

I went to Katie's room and gently wiggled hers and Larisa's legs. "Do you want to watch the sun come up?" I whispered. Without so much as a yawn, they hopped up and got ready.

The girls and I went out on our deck. In the few minutes we sat there, we heard cardinals, crows and an owl. The girls later wondered aloud whether it was a barn owl, a horned owl or a screech owl. Katie had studied raptors in third grade last year and Larisa seemed to be equally informed.

Once Art was ready, we got in the car and drove northwest of Keats a mile or two toward a local high point in the road. A couple of raccoons loped across the road in front of us and headed into a darkened plowed field.

As we drove along the dusty road, the girls chattered about this and that. They're so different from their older sisters, who can barely manage grunts when they first wake up.

We parked the car at the crest of a hill so we could have an unobstructed view. The girls and I huddled together on the trunk of the car. Although it was in already in the 70s, the light breeze was a bit chilly. The sky lightened into pale blue and pink streaks. Larisa commented that one of the streaks looked like a space ship.

Art noticed some box elder bugs on a nearby plant and let one of them run through the hairs on his arm so the girls could see it up close. The girls also pointed out some spiders. Then Katie blurted out, "Have you ever seen roly-polys 'do it,' Mom?" Art laughed and I said that I couldn't remember having ever having seen them "do it." Katie explained that she had seen some with their rear ends in the air one time. These kids know more than I did at their age!

While we waited, we could hear cattle mooing in the nearby field and could make out the calls of meadowlarks, mourning doves and bobwhites. "Why do they call them bobwhites?" Katie asked. "Just listen to their call," I said, as I imitated their bob-white whistle.

Art had read in the Kansas City Star the day before that sunrise would be at 5:56 in Kansas City. Doing calculations based on our distance from Kansas City and the rate the earth rotates, he figured that the sun would come over the horizon 10 minutes later here. And he was right. At 6:06, the big red ball appeared. "Awesome," the girls said in unison.

Once the sun was well above the horizon, we walked down the gravel road, checking out some of the same plants we had seen on the Konza Prairie Wildflower Walk just a couple of weeks before. Art picked a milkweed pod and showed the girls the milky, sticky substance at the end of the stem. Then he opened the pod to show them the seeds inside.

He picked one of the grasses and stuck a strand in his mouth with the fuzzy part hanging out. From time to time when we weren't expecting it, he'd tickle the girls' legs and my face with that fuzzy part. Before long, the girls had grass dangling from between their teeth, too.

I took my usual 10-15 pictures of the event. The last shot was of Art, Katie and Larisa pointing at the sun - as if any of us will soon forget our Day Star Day.

Larisa, Art and Katie on Day Star Day.

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