There is something particularly beneficial about the quality of the sunlight in the very early morning, more specifically the first couple of hours of daylight. Exposure to direct sunlight, especially during those first early hours of the day, promote the production and release into the human system of a chemical called serotonin. This chemical is strongly associated with positive moods, a calm and focussed mental outlook, and a general feeling of well being. In addition it also ties into the circadian rhythm of people's lives, allowing them to stay awake during the daytime and sleep well at night. As a result one of the key factors in treating a majority of mental health problems is regular healthy exposure to sunlight, especially during those key early hours of the morning.
I have always known this deep down in my bones, felt the truth of it in my gut, for years and years before I ever heard of serotonin. And for long years it has been my habit of getting up at the crack of dawn, or, truth be told, before the crack of dawn, and run or surf with the sunrise.
And my favourite place to run is on the beach. I love it with a passion that is beyond reason. I could spend the rest of my life running up and down on a beach, and only stopping to eat, drink and have sex, not necessarily in that order. But, while most people would agree that the beach is a pleasant enough place to spend some time, there is a further explanation for why this might be so. The interaction between air, sunlight and moving water, salt or fresh, breaks down air molecules and releases a thing called negative ions, which is inhaled by us. These negative ions get absorbed into our bloodstream, where they produce chemical reactions that increase ... our levels of serotonin. Which makes us feel great and gives us lots of energy. So, being on the beach in the early morning gives you a double whammy of a serotonin hit. No wonder I like it.
On this day I was out early and I hit the sand, right next to the water, and started running. The tide was out, the sand was hard and wet, and the ocean, my constant companion by my side, was as smooth and flat as a burnished mirror of jade. There had been bugger-all swell for a week, and the prolonged calm, still conditions were almost unheard of for us, living as we do here on the surf coast.
I settled in my stride and ran onwards, relaxing inwardly and enjoying the feeling of movement along the face of the earth, lapping up the sheer joy of it. I strongly feel that, somewhere deep down inside, this is a human's primordial purpose: to run. Watching a cheetah bolt along at high speed is not only poetry in motion, it is also witnessing a creature being completely and utterly lost in the very essence of its existence. While I'm a fair bit slower than the average cheetah, holder of the world land speed record of 120.7 km/h, I feel exactly the same.
I ran until I got to the end of the stretch of beach where people walk their dogs, and where, even in the early morning, there's a chance of coming across a straggler or two. Sure enough, I passed a couple. They waved at me in a friendly way from the recesses of their hats, jumpers, coats, pants and shoes. I waved back politely. A couple of hundred metres further, considering myself safely out of eye-shot, I took of my shorts and continued running in the nude, dressed now solely in a headband and a watch. The only thing that tops running on the beach is doing so in the nude. I do it whenever I think I can get away with it without getting arrested.
The sunrise had been announcing itself in long broad streaks of orange, red and yellow, strung out from the south on a long trajectory to the north, angling up at 45 degrees, like a climb up a distant mountain. Just as I arrived at my halfway spot where I turn around and head back, the sun itself finally appeared above the horizon, showing her face of yellow light, and, having decided to put in an appearance in the world, made no bones about climbing up high fast.
The spot where I was is my favourite swimming place. The dunes to my left come to a rise here, and there is a stand of tall casuarina trees, my favourite trees, waving their pin-tail leaves out towards the salt water. This particular species, Casuarina equisetifolia, or horsetail she-oak, needs to live within fifty to a hundred metres from the salt water. Plant them any further and they die. There at my swimming spot they provide shade, a secluded area to shelter, an illusory sense of security and, for me, belonging.
Usually there's not too many people that make it up to there. It's a fair few kms away from the dog beach, and, under normal circumstances, it's deserted. In these days of coronavirus pandemic, self-isolation, unemployment and looming depression however, there's stacks of people with obviously nothing to do all day, and as a result people are venturing further afield. Two days earlier I was out there swimming, diving over waves and body surfing by myself, with, presumably, my lilly-white arse sticking out high and mighty above the waves, and a chick walked past. From where I was she seemed to be about mid-twenties, with long red hair. Clearly on a walking mission of some sort, she stopped dead right behind me, turned in my direction, fixed her eyes on me, or, potentially, on my lilly-white arse, and started stretching. She flung her arms up, shook her legs out, wiggled her elbows like she was doing the chicken dance, and launched into some sort of tai-chi routine, all the while pointedly staring at me.
I didn't mind. She was performing what is referred to as The Reverse Dirty Old Man. This is a particular set of moves engaged in by scummy old blokes on beaches around the world, when they pull up not too close but within eye-full distance of attractive semi-naked women in or our of the water, and, beer gutses hanging over sagging speedoes, pretend to be engaged in conversation while salivating and getting near-heart attacks over the chicks. It may potentially be instrued as a form of sexual harrassment, or, depending on where you stand on the divide, as merely enjoying all the beauty the scenery has on offer.
Personally I felt that if that chick was inclined to sexually harrass me she was welcome to go for her life. No complaints from me. Share and share alike. Here's my arse and enjoy it. Now show me yours.
This time there was no audience to googly-eye over my cavorting and frolicking in the water. I reflected on that with a measure of some regret as I waded out into the water. Unbelievably there was no movement in the water whatsoever. No sweep, no current, no pull of the tide. No shorebreak, even. The water bubbled in equanimously, lightly touched the sand of the shore, and evaporated without as much as a sigh. This on a beach where normally there are rips every fifteen metres, violent dumping shorebreaks, and pounding bone-crushing rollers of surf cascading through multiple layers of set waves. In the context of an almost complete cessation of human activity as a result of the corona pandemic, it seemed as if the ocean had joined humanity in solidarity and was now holding its breath, treading on eggshells, and biding its time.
I dolphin-dived over imaginary waves and pushed back up again from the bottom a few times, for the principle of the thing, and emerged in waist deep water. I paused for a second before launching into a short open swim, getting a bit of distance in. In front of me the rising sun sat a few handbreadths above the horizon, dressed in ribbons of yellow, pink, orange, red, a few last remaining shred of purple and dark blue. I turned to face south to start swimming, and stopped in my tracks. Appearing as if out nowhere, hanging low over the surface of the sea, a huge pelican flew my way. His wings beat up and down slowly in strong, deliberate movement, almost but not quite touching the water. And as I stood and stared at him, taken by surprise, he flew straight at me, passed me at no further than two metres away, eyeballed me with his beady black eye, pointed his long red beak at me, banked to his left, did a u-ee around me, and, still only two metres away, flew back the way he had come.
I stared after him until he was out of sight, gobsmacked.
These sort of things don't happen very often.
Did he think I was something he could eat, and, disappointed that my size was out of scooping-up range for his beak, had changed his mind and buggered off? Was he just curious and had merely come to check me out? Or, perhaps stretching the limits of inter-species fraternisation beyond the point generally considered acceptable by most creatures, was he actually a she, had spotted my lilly-white arse a mile off and had come flying over for a good perv, in a spontaneous and rarely witnessed performance of The Dirty Old Pelican Dance? Had redhead chick sent cosmic messages of solidarity with all things ginger through to redbeak bird and given her the heads-up on me?
I shook my head, took a deep breath full of negative ions, sending my serotonin through the roof, exactly where I like it to be, and dived into the salt water. Life was beautiful.