Sometimes it's not about where to walk but when. Certain hours of the day carry with them their own qualities, and strange as it may sound, I am fond of the quiet mystery of the early morning. Just before sunrise the day has not yet lost its patina of night, and ever so gradually, the velvety air of the post-midnight hours begins to retreat into shadows. As I walk through the streets in those poignant moments before sunrise, I never see many people, mostly just the silhouettes of lone individuals not yet recognizable by the light of day. Birds rustle in their nests. A few taxis swish by. The coffee cart guys are setting up for the day. We have scientific terms for these moments. Astronomical twilight gives way to nautical twilight before real morning, civil twilight, begins.
As a person with dogs, I am accustomed to venturing out in the city at the first hint of morning light. That's my excuse. Maybe I'm also a little bit in love with the terminology of twilight. I also love watching the city wake up. At this time in autumn, the general urban awakening occurs between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., with 6 being very sleepy, with a few inebriated stragglers finding their way home, and 7 being wide awake with coffee. I have a neighbor who walks her dog at 6 o'clock, too, but not a minute before. She says she waits until 6 "because by then, all the crazies have gone."
I often let the dogs select their own walking itinerary every morning, leading the way with their noses. This morning they kept pressing east for some reason, past our usual boundary of the Bowery, surveying the unchartered smells (at least for them) of East 2nd Street. Ahead on the left, the New York Marble Cemetery looked appropriately spooky in the minutes before sunset, the stones seemingly emitting their own light. Ahead of us at the end of the street the imminent sunrise appeared as a small glow, and we pressed onward towards the light, a direction that would have taken us to the East River. Instead we turned north on Avenue C and then headed back home via E. 6th. At the intersection of Avenue A, the dogs sniffed out Tompkins Square Park so we made a detour north. How beautiful the park looked in the morning hour, the lamp lights still glowing against the soft morning light.
The East Village is almost always happening at night, so walking through the old neighborhood in the morning gives the feeling that you've just come too late to the party. St. Marks Place cleans up well even after a hard night. While the great advantage of morning walks comes with the feeling that you have the city all to yourself, the drawback is that there's hardly anything open and won't be for another four or five hours. But thank goodness for the coffee cart vendors. It's a brilliant time and place, this 6 a.m. in the morning in a city that never sleeps. As long as no one else agrees with me about getting up before daylight, I'll continue enjoying it all to myself.
Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. - East 2nd St. near 1st Avenue, Tompkins Square Park, St. Marks Place. To see the itinerary of the walk, visit this link to the Google Map. See more images of the walk in this Flickr WOTBA Slideshow.