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Out to Play Before Breakfast

July 21, 2012

Pine StreetI have always been a morning person. My earliest memories are of the house we moved to when I was two, the type known in New England as a “triple-decker” – three floors, with one or two apartment units on each floor, and a flat roof. Most of these houses fronted right on the street, but ours was set back with a long sweeping lawn that was a favorite neighborhood play area. We lived in a three-bedroom apartment that took up the entire first floor, and my crib was placed under an east-facing window in the bedroom that I shared with my older sister. In the morning, I would sit in the crib, looking out that window and watching the sun rise over the back-yard neighbor’s vegetable garden.

My father was also an early riser; his job at a steel forge required him to leave the house a little after 6 a.m. He got himself up and out in the morning as quietly as possible so as not to disturb my mother, who was definitely not a morning person. Once I was old enough to get out of bed by myself, I would wander out to the kitchen to keep him company at the breakfast table (and cadge some buttered toast).

The summer I was five and had achieved the independence of going to school, I began a new summer ritual. Before I went to bed at night, I would ask my mother (who liked to sleep in a bit on these summer mornings when no children’s school schedule had to be met) for permission to “go out to play before breakfast.” I loved those early morning hours outdoors, with the air still cool and birds singing. I don’t remember what I did exactly, although I know one of my favorite haunts was the hollow space at the center of a clump of lilacs that grew at the side of the house. I wasn’t allowed to wander far from home, and there were no other children out and about at that early morning hour; but the lack of company didn’t detract from my pleasure. I think even at that young age I was looking for a solitude that was rare in a busy household in a densely populated neighborhood. (In later years, when we moved to a single-family house at the edge of a small woodland, I would spend many pleasurable hours roaming the woods behind our house.)

early morning landscape

Decades later, I still love to go out and play before breakfast. In summer, I am often out early for a 3-5 mile walk around my rural neighborhood.  My walk “around the block” of local roads takes me past a mix of single-family homes, small farms, some small businesses, and open land; and these morning walks are a feast for the senses. When I first step outside the house, I am immediately aware of the touch of cool air on my skin and the warmth of the newly risen sun. The sounds are of birdsong, the gurgle of water running over rocks in the stream that bisects my route, the bass notes of frogs in ponds, and the occasional barked greeting of neighborhood dogs. There are wonderful scents on the morning air – of clover, and new-mown hay, and roses blooming on a fence along the way. Sometimes I will engage my sense of taste by picking a ripe berry (strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, or blackberry, depending on the month) and popping it in my mouth.

chicken yardBut it is my sense of sight that is most fully engaged. As I walk down my dirt road, I pay attention to the tracks of animals that have passed this way – deer, wild turkeys, fox, and one morning recently, the large tracks of a solitary moose. My regular walks also provide an opportunity to observe what’s happening with the humans in my neighborhood, noticing that a house has been put up for sale or that the people who have long kept horses have now added a small herd of cows and a new chicken coop. I sometimes encounter other denizens of the early morning hours. I may pass cyclists or other walkers. There’s an elderly farmer who is often out working in a field of vegetables and flowers near the road. Another local farmer who raises oxen is sometimes seen walking along the side of the road with a young pair that is being trained to the yoke.

farmer at work

My favorite sights are the plants growing along the way. Wildflowers abound, including several varieties of clover (Trifolium) and vetch (Viccia). Cattails (Typha latifolia) grow in marshy areas, and black-eyed susans (probably Rudbeckia hirta) bloom along the railroad tracks. There are tall yellow blooms of buttercups (Ranunculus acris), evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), common mullein (Verbascum thapsis), and goldenrod (Solidago). Flowering shrubs include elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) and meadowsweet (Spirea latifolia). A flash of pink along the side of the road calls attention to the blooms of rhodora or wild roses.

cattails elderberry
rose along road railroad tracks rudbeckia

stonewall succulentI also enjoy the flowers on display in people’s front gardens. Bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) dominate the scene in early summer. These are followed by the blooms of Siberian iris, Baptisia australis, and peonies, which in turn give way to an abundance of daylilies and coneflowers, and finally to summer phlox and liatris.  I don’t know the identity of this bright pink succulent that is blooming in the crevices of a rock wall in front of a vacant homestead. After the elderly man who lived here died, his mobile home was torn down; now all that remain are the footings of his house and the flowers he had planted around it.

Footings and daylilies at vacant homestead

red&yellow daylily This lovely red and yellow bitone daylily (Hemerocallis) is currently blooming in three different gardens along my route. Some day, I hope to add it to my own garden.

When I return from my morning walk, I am ready to get washed and dressed for the day, go out for my morning tour of the garden and, enjoy breakfast out on the deck.

44 Comments leave one →
  1. July 21, 2012 11:42 pm

    Sounds idyllic. I’m not really a morning person, but on those days I get up early anyway to go out into the garden, I find the experience very satisfying.

    • July 24, 2012 7:43 pm

      Jason, I suspect that being out in the early morning is only idyllic for those of us who love morning. I know people whose time to be out in the garden is with a glass of wine at the end of the day. While I can appreciate the image of tranquility that conjures up, I don’t know how much I would actually enjoy the experience; I mostly just feel exhausted when I get home at the end of the day.

  2. July 22, 2012 9:42 am

    I love mornings! On most weekdays in the city I get up around 5-5:30 and go for a morning walk in the large historic cemetery across the street from our apartment. There’s nobody there except me, Hans Christian Andersen, Søren Kierkegaard and innumerable other quiet and peaceful residents of the cemetery. It might sound slightly morbid, but it’s really the most serene and pleasant start to the day.

    (Up in the summer house I contend myself with a stroll around the garden, but even though the garden isn’t huge, that stroll can still take an hour or two… When my husband gets up he always asks me what I’ve been doing, and my answer is almost invariably “nothing at all”. -Perhaps with the exception of killing off a few scores of slugs; early morning is a great time for slug-hunting in the garden!)

    • July 24, 2012 7:48 pm

      Soren, One of my nieces lives next door to a cemetery and goes walking there every day; it’s a lovely woodland/garden setting. And when I am in Gettysburg (site of a famous American Civil War battle), I go walking on the battlefield. Although both your country and mine have been pretty good about setting aside land for parks, there are many urban areas where cemeteries are the nicest public green spaces around.

      I will admit that I don’t get up so early in winter; I don’t really like getting up or going out to walk in the dark.

      • July 25, 2012 12:43 am

        I wake up fairly early in winter as well, though not as early as in summer when the sun rises at 4:30am. (In winter, sunrise can be as late as 8:30…)

  3. July 22, 2012 10:35 am

    Jean, I have never been a morning person but like gardeninacity I do appreciate an early morning walk the odd time I get to do it. There is nothing quite like the quiet you describe, when the air is cool and clean.

    • July 24, 2012 7:50 pm

      Marguerite, It’s probably a good thing for me that many people are not morning people; if they were, the early morning wouldn’t be such a quiet time ;-).

  4. July 22, 2012 1:20 pm

    The sedum is likely sedum spurium “John Creech”. The daylily is probably Frans Hals. For anyone in Western Maine, a great chance to see what others are growing is the McLaughlin Garden’s tour of 6 private gardens in Norway next Sunday.

    • July 22, 2012 4:39 pm

      I’d harvest a bit of the sedum and plant it somewhere that pink works for you, as a reminder of an elderly neighbour. Another gardener, like us.

    • July 24, 2012 7:55 pm

      Harriet, Thanks for identifying the sedum. I’m not convinced the daylily is ‘Frans Hals.’ The descriptions of it and most of the photos I’ve seen describe it as orange or rusty-red. This is more a wine-colored red. ‘Howdy’ might be a more likely identification.

      Thanks for plugging the McLaughlin Garden Tour. I went to garden tours sponsored by the McLaughlin Garden for several years in a row from about 2001-2005, and those tours were an important part of my gardening education. I was disappointed when they stopped and was delighted to see that they are starting again. I will definitely be there!

      Diana, that is a wonderful suggestion about the sedum. When I do my new front garden landscape, I think it may include a rock retaining wall — which would be the perfect place to put some of that sedum.

  5. July 22, 2012 2:30 pm

    I am absolutely NOT a morning person but on the odd summer morning when I’m up early, it’s an enjoyable experience. I should do it more often but I’m such a night owl, it’s hard to get up early. 🙂 I really enjoyed reading your vignette. A flat roof in New England? Didn’t that cause problems when it snowed?

    • July 24, 2012 7:59 pm

      Tammy, Although I’m far from being a night owl, my work often requires late nights, and when it does I’m not such a happy camper the next morning.

      I had never thought about the issue of the flat roofs; all the old cities of New England’s industrial heyday are full of buildings like this one, and I can never remember anyone worrying about the snow load or shoveling off a roof. They must be built with enormous ceiling joists that can handle the snow load.

  6. Laurrie permalink
    July 22, 2012 5:17 pm

    What a wonderful post. I felt like I was walking the morning route with you, and it gave me great ease. Delightful, especially with the little bit of autobiographical background about your growing up as an early morning riser!

    The unidentified pink flowering plant is sedum spurium… could be any of several cultivars. Mine is Red Carpet and looks just like the picture.

    Thanks for an enjoyable way to see your area, on an early morning stroll.

    • July 24, 2012 9:16 pm

      Laurrie, Thanks for identifying the sedum which was unfamiliar to me — a new garden plant for me to pay attention to. I’m glad you enjoyed the walk. I have a basic 3 1/2 mile route “around the block” and then a couple of side spurs I can add on to get it up to 4 miles, or 4 1/2, or even 5.

  7. July 22, 2012 5:20 pm

    It sounds like a perfect start to the day – a time to look and enjoy the sights and sounds before the day starts it’s rush at you.

    • July 24, 2012 9:23 pm

      Claire, Especially when the weather is fine, I do find this a perfect day to start the day. When school starts and I can’t manage such a leisurely morning, my substitute is to walk to work (a little over a mile). It takes about 15 minutes longer than it would to drive; but, as you explained so well, it provides an opportunity to “look and enjoy the sights and sounds before the day starts its rush….” I find taking a little time for myself in the morning provides a foundation that carries me through even the busiest day.

  8. July 22, 2012 6:48 pm

    You have described how I want to spend my mornings when I retire. As I work 12 months, I will only get the opportunity once I retire to do what I also did as a child…get up before everyone and go out and explore…I love getting out early in the garden on weekends to work and explore….fabulous post Jean!!

    • July 24, 2012 9:26 pm

      Donna, We really do have a lot in common! “Get up before everyone and go out and explore” exactly captures the feeling of those childhood summer mornings. There was a delicious solitude to it, but also a sense of adventure. Recapturing that feeling is truly something to look forward to in your retirement. (I am looking forward to retirement itself as capturing that same combination of solitude and adventure.)

  9. July 22, 2012 8:19 pm

    I am a morning person as well. I love the first tweet of the birds and the soft light of dawn. And it gives me a feeling of starting early enough to have a good start of the day. This was a lovely post, Jean. I enjoyed it!

    • July 24, 2012 9:32 pm

      Michelle, It’s amazing how many morning people there are out here in the garden blogosphere. In my academic world, morning people are rarer (which makes sense since college students are more known for late-night carousing than for morning perkiness!). At work, I can actually earn the gratitude of my colleagues simply by volunteering to teach in the 9 a.m. time slot.

      One thing I haven’t managed to recapture in my adult life is the ability to watch the sunrise from bed. I’m planning an east-facing window on the new master bedroom addition to my house.

  10. July 22, 2012 9:36 pm

    I love this post and all morning people out there (I am included) can relate.

    • July 24, 2012 9:34 pm

      Becky, I would imagine that farm life is much easier if you are a person who likes morning. (I am thinking about the chapter of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma when he is spending a week on the organic farm and notes that it was the first time in his life that he got up at 6 a.m. and was already late for work.)

  11. July 23, 2012 2:34 am

    A lovely glimpse into Jean and her life! Although up early (5.45) winter and summer, I seldom take a walk in the early morning. But come spring I’ve promised myself that every day will start with an hour or two in the garden or greenhouse! Jack

    • July 24, 2012 9:39 pm

      Jack, I think it was your recent posting of old photographs that got me looking back through old photo albums for a picture that would really give a feel for my childhood neighborhood. (And you’ve got to love the budding maternal instinct that had me holding the doll as though I were trying to suffocate it!)

      On days that I don’t go out for a walk (or even on some when I do), I often go out in the garden first thing just to stand and look and breathe.

  12. July 23, 2012 6:32 am

    I also have always been a morning person Jean, and here was me thinking I had a good memory! We also lived in a three story building which are called tenements in this part of the world. Fabulous Daylily, the buds in ours have finally developed but are reluctant to open due to the very cool Summer which we are having.

    • July 24, 2012 9:42 pm

      Alistair, They are sometimes called “tenement houses” here, too; but tenement has a negative connotation in the states — referring to rundown, crowded housing in the not-nice part of town. I think my mother may have referred to some of the other buildings in our neighborhood as tenements, but never ours!

  13. July 23, 2012 4:05 pm

    Nice to know now what’s the name of that red and yellow bitone daylily. I have that in my garden. It hasn’t bloomed yet.

    Have a nice Monday!


    • July 24, 2012 9:48 pm

      Satu, See my response to Harriet above; I’m not convinced this is actually ‘Frans Hall,’ because the red is more a wine red than a red-orange. There are a number of yellow-red bitone daylilies that this could be. Ones I’ve found photos of include ‘Bitone,’ ‘Gay Troubadour’ and ‘Howdy.’ I did find one photo of ‘Howdy’ that looks exactly like this. Whatever it’s name, I want it in my garden :-). Happily one of the neighbors who has it growing recently had a table set up in front of their house selling divisions of some of their plants. When I have a place to put this one in my garden, I think I’ll be able to work a deal to get it from them.

  14. July 23, 2012 5:05 pm

    Hi Jean, it sounds a very soothing and calming way to start the day and although I would love to, I’m really not a morning person. I only become a morning person when I have a garden project I want to get done and so I try and fit in a couple of hours before work. I do manage to have a walk round the garden before heading off to work (since it’s a small garden it doesn’t take very long) and that’s usually enough until I get home and then I really need the garden to de-stress in.

    • July 24, 2012 9:51 pm

      Sunil, I know other gardeners who like the garden de-stress ritual at the end of the day. It’s funny; even though I’m a morning person, I find it hard to get out and *work* in the garden early in the day because I like to begin the day with relaxing rituals.

  15. July 23, 2012 6:28 pm

    How wonderful to hear about your childhood, about having toast with your Dad and about being able to wander outside on your own at a young age. Too bad things can be so dangerous for kids now. I remember taking the bus for about half hour by myself on Saturday mornings to go to ballet lessons and I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8. Those were the days!
    I am certainly glad you wander with a camera!! The plants you saw along the way are delightful!

    • July 24, 2012 9:55 pm

      Astrid, I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a time and place when children were allowed so much independence. I was 10 when my family moved to a new house on the other side of town (2 miles from our old neighborhood). On the day of the move, I walked to the new house — partly because there really wasn’t enough room in the car for everybody and all the stuff, but also so that I’d know the way and would be able to walk back to play with my old friends.

      I don’t normally wander with a camera. The day I took these photos, I not only had my camera; I was also carrying a bucket to collect wildflowers for flower arrangements in the house. What is normally a 55-minute walk ended up taking me over an hour and a half (but a delightful hour and a half :-)).

  16. July 23, 2012 10:58 pm

    Hi Jean. Just wanted to let you know I nominated you for the One Lovely Blog Award. I was a little worried you had already received it, but didn’t want to leave you out. Anyhow, to find out what’s involved in accepting the award if you want to, go to my post at I really do enjoy reading Jean’s Garden.

  17. July 24, 2012 3:23 am

    I am a morning person too, and like you, think often of my time as a child in PA. There was lots of time to wander and wonder. It was nice meeting you Jean. I enjoyed our time together.

  18. July 24, 2012 9:15 am

    We do form our daily routines early in life, I think. I like that the house is quiet and cool in the early hours of a summer morning. The coolness helps me feel more energetic and the calm makes me contemplative. I don’t walk in the morning, but I do enjoy strolling around the neighbourhood, looking at the houses and gardens; noting what has changed and what never seems to change.

    • July 24, 2012 9:59 pm

      Jennifer, Your strolls around the neighborhood sound a lot like my walks to work during the school year. Especially in spring, I find that I have to allow a little extra time to get there because I have to stop and gawk at gardens along the way. 🙂

  19. July 24, 2012 10:50 am

    Getting up early does seem to give one a bit of a head start…time to think before all the day’s obligations are on top of you. Thank you for a lovely post!

    • July 24, 2012 10:02 pm

      Cindy, When I sleep until what many people would think of as a perfectly reasonable time to get up, I often feel as though I’ve already missed half the day. I do think that my morning rituals involve a period of calm and an opportunity to get centered before facing the day’s obligations.

  20. July 24, 2012 12:18 pm

    Your morning walk looks like a lovely adventure every day, Jean. I don’t do much walking these days but still love being out in the garden early on a summer morning. The sense of having the world all to yourself — or of sharing it with people who you know are kindred morning spirits — is really magical. As is having a parent all to yourself over buttered toast when you’re a child!

    • July 24, 2012 10:07 pm

      Stacy, Buttered toast was elevated to the status of gourmet food in our family. My father was a bread freak who was always in search of the perfect loaf of bread. I remember one period when he had found some special bread at a bakery in a town about 45 minutes away. Every Sunday afternoon, we would drive through back roads to this town, where my father would pull into a parking area in the back of a commercial bakery and some guy would come out on the loading dock and hand off a warm loaf of bread. (A special treat in winter was being the child who got to hold the warm loaf of bread for the ride back home.) When my parents were still alive, family would gather at their house for a Sunday evening supper of buttered toast and coffee.

      Although my father worked 2 or 3 jobs for much of my childhood and was seldom at home, he had a talent for concentrating on one child at a time in a way that made you feel special.

  21. July 25, 2012 12:31 am

    Well aren’t you a popular blogger Oh, I certainly not a morning. Always have been. mlI tell people I could sleep through a railcar going by me.

    Those are some lucky onions to be next to those beautiful wildflowers.

    Best, P.

  22. August 4, 2012 10:29 pm

    Jean – I loved your comment about “starting the day with relaxing rituals”. Amen to that! (maybe that’s why I am crabby getting ready for work — hardly relaxing); the post is charming and a wonderful glimpse into the Jean we appreciate so much.

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