mountains and blue and gold 5


When I was tiny, vacation felt like leaving for the airport before dawn. It was exciting to feel the bumps of an empty highway as we rushed with our bags full of swimsuits and books to make an early flight. And once we were there, Florida or California, vacation was full. It was full of swimming and zoos and sunburns, of cousins and grilled hamburgers and exhausted happiness.


zoo flamingos


But now vacation feels less like the excited rush before dawn, and more like ability, the privilege, to quietly watch the dawn unfold. Vacation now is the extravagant act of simply taking in sunrise and sunset. It is the still unfolding of cloud and color. It is mountains silhouetted back against golden blues.


mountians and whiskey


It’s not that the sun doesn’t rise or set on an ordinary day. But it gets crowded out. The horizon is full of telephone and electric lines, garages and garbage cans. And our mornings are filled with sleep until the last possible moment and then breakfast and clean up and pack up the papers and soothe the baby and the start the day.


bright sun

cactus 2


A few weeks ago, I went out early for our Arizona family vacation and stayed with one of my college roommates, Heidi. She picked me up from the airport mid-morning and we spent four beautiful days hiking and talking, praying compline before bed, seeing a play, listening to lovely music, cooking and brewing coffee together.

Amy and Heidi instagram

As I get older I treasure my friendship with Heidi more and more, she is one of the very few people in my life who seems to take in both the really horrible and beautiful parts of me at the same time. There is no pretense with Heidi: I could call to confess or celebrate and she wouldn’t miss a beat. Our friendship is secure.


Amy and Heidi


The first morning after I arrived, Heidi was scheduled to have some workers pour a concrete patio at about 6 am. But something went wrong with mixing the cement, so we were up at 6 with an hour to simply wait. So we watched the sunrise. Coffee in hand, we watched the sky, telephone poles and palm trees and skyscrapers and crimson. I don’t think we even said much. It was good to just be.


Sunset from Heidi's


And then on our last morning together, when I had convinced her to drive three hours south of Phoenix to my parents’ condo, I banged around in the kitchen long enough to wake her up for the sunrise. (See, she is a very forgiving friend.) We crept upstairs and watched as the mountains woke up, and it was enough to just be quiet witnesses greeting another day.


mountains and blue and gold 2


Heidi at Sunrise(photo I took of Heidi in the sunrise, looking wisely into the dawn)


Amy at Sunrise (photo Heidi took of me laughing at something hilarious she said)


What stands out to me about my time in Arizona is the sky. It’s big and clear and hemmed in with mountains. It’s my dad calling for my mom to stop washing lettuce  and come upstairs to the little Romeo and Juliet balcony and watch the sunset.




cactus and sun


It’s walking with a glass of wine in a plastic tumbler to the hot tub and watching the eastern mountains glow rosy in the shadow of the sunset. It’s the bigness of the sky mid-hike with cliffs and scrub brush and open range cattle beneath you.


Mountain view


The thing about vacationing as an adult is that it is often not really a leaving of responsibilities. Someone still needs to make breakfast, and clean it up, and go buy more bacon and kale (because that’s what we tend to eat for breakfast on vacation.) Vacation can feel more like real life, especially when you travel with the people that you live with, when you are an adult. And now that vacations are filled so often with Wi-Fi and remote access to work projects, vacations more and more have to be a conscious choice to be present and do less.


evan and amy in arizona


Even a thousand miles away from home, you still have to choose to be on vacation. You still have to choose to stop and look up at the sky and wonder at its bigness, or look down as see the intricate smallness of flowers and plants.

cloud burst



Arizona plant


And now six weeks later, in the dead of winter in urban Milwaukee, I think back to those warm sunsets as the cool of the winter desert crept in, and wish I had taken time to see more of them.


Arizona skyline


Of course, sunsets are here too. Last weekend Evan called me out to see the moon and the clouds. Strips of clouds covered the moon which in turn created a rainbow aura around herself in the clouds. We stood outside in the scattered patches of snow and took in the show.


moon and sunset


We have the choice to stop now and take in the winter moon. I can choose to hold my niece as she screams out her grief at her mother leaving for work, and we can watch the sunrise behind the dozen houses and wires. I can stop for a moment to appreciate the sunset as I cut sweet potatoes for dinner.


sunset in wisconsin


It’s not the decadent 20 or 30 meditative minutes of taking in a mountain sunset, but it’s a good reminder: Everyday we can choose to stop and breath and take in the beauty around us. Because if we enjoy the stolen seconds on a regular Tuesday evening, it helps us to really appreciate the luxury of watching a summer sunset when vacation comes again. And as sure as the dawn, summer will come whether or not the little groundhog sees his shadow today.


catcus and mountains


What helps you stop and appreciate a vacation or an ordinary day?


4 Responses to The Extravagance of Watching a Sunrise

  1. Alicia says:

    Such good reminders, Amy. Thank you for this! As I stick my nose to the grindstone for another semester, I need to remember to cherish the beauty that is around me. Your pictures are gorgeous! Miss you lots!! We need to catch up soon–I owe you a phone call! 🙂

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Thanks Alicia! I hope you take in some of those pretty mountain sunsets for me! I’d love to catch up! My brother and sister-in-law and niece are heading to San Diego next week, and they need ideas for cheap and fun things to do! Miss you!!

  2. Aunt Karen says:

    Beautiful photos. I also love to take sunset photos and flowers and birds. (Sunrises not so often because I have trouble getting myself out of bed.)

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Thanks Aunt Karen! California sunsets are something truly beautiful! I want to take pictures of birds, but they just don’t stay still long enough for me (or I don’t have a long enough lens)but I admire people’s beautiful bird pictures so much!

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