I am standing here at the summit of Cadillac Mountain shivering with six strangers. Far below, where land cradles the layered darkness of Frenchmen’s bay, the last leaves of a long autumn are falling. We have gathered here to view the first rays of a chill October day from the highest peak in Acadia National Park. It’s bitterly cold and none of us is dressed warmly enough. The sunrise we are waiting for is still twenty minutes away and suddenly I am wondering if it’s really worth the trouble to experience this new day a few moments before the rest of the mostly sleeping population of the east coast does.
I rub my hands together and stomp my feet, staring out into the pale limpid undark that barely promises light and warmth. As I wait I strike up a conversation with a woman who has set up a tripod and camera to catch the sun as it peeks over the horizon. She is from Atlanta, a retired teacher who travels all over the country taking pictures while her husband stays home and watches the dogs. Unlike the three teenage girls in shorts and tee shirts, she at least has a jacket that helps block the wind that whistles over the open rock face of this seaward facing mountain.
All of us, I suspect, are here looking for something. An epiphany perhaps, a brilliant moment set apart from the ordinary that we can talk about for years to come. My own journey to this place started in September when I decided to immerse myself in autumn, living, experiencing and writing about it from a one-man tent pitched in the hinterlands of Mount Desert Island Maine.
This is my last day in Acadia. Surprisingly the weather has held and I have done most of my exploring and writing in only a light jacket. The leaves were bright and the sky clear and blue. There is just this one thing left on my bucket list, the oft talked about Cadillac Mountain sunrise. Sliding out of my cozy sleeping bag at five AM I feel my way into damp and clammy clothes in the darkness. The drive to the summit is silent, headlights boring into a moonless night. As determined as I am to see the fabled first sun in the nation, I admit my thoughts are more on the warm sleeping bag I abandoned for this chilly quest.
When they throw the switch that turns on the lights on the Christmas tree in Times Square a collective gasp rises up from the crowd. The last crashing note of the Hallelujah Chorus echoes into a stunned silence. Some mornings the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain may be similarly dramatic. This morning, however, was not one of them. The moment of sunrise passed without any noticeable change on the horizon other than the sky seeming a bit brighter. After a while of waiting for the appearance of a visible orb with no results, we all more or less shrug and head for our cars and respective days. Sometimes the great outdoors is like that.