Roach: Cream or sugar?

Mornings are a time of respite
Roach: Cream or sugar?
Photo courtesy of John Roach
This is the coffee cup John Roach uses up at his cabin in the North Woods.

Rejoice! For it is July in Madison and Wisconsin.

Is there any better time in our town and state? Does our state ever look better than it does in July? The waters are warm. The fields are green. Our trees are lush with leaves. And we, those hearty ones who have survived winter, can now go outside and mingle. Ride a bike. Take a stroll. Sit at a picnic table and share a beer.

For our clan, July is a season of sociability. It is the month when we entertain the most folks at our little cabin on the lake in the woods. Friends, couples and family all make their way to the shores of our water and the peace it offers.

After 25 years of hosting those close to us, I have come to favor one part of the day. It’s not afternoon when the day is its warmest and the waters are alive with belly flops and floaties. It’s not in the evening when the campfire is stoked, the wine is passed, the cooler is full and the songs are sung. Although these moments are great, experience has made me favor one window of time over all the others.

That time? Morning coffee.

There are reasons for this. First, not everyone rises at the same time. So, the early conversations of the day are with fewer people. We also tend to have these talks down on the pier or on the porch, so our voices don’t awaken the remaining sleepers. The lake is our vista. And unlike other parts of the day, the conversation is slower, with pauses for java sips. There is something good about not being fully awake. Our engines are warming up, our transmissions are still in first gear. There are moments of silence that calling birds and jumping fish fill.

We are also unguarded. No one has showered. Guys haven’t shaved. Women have no makeup. Everyone has some version of bed head. And most importantly, we are in pajamas, sweats or whatever folks wear as bed clothes. It takes a special kind of friendship and familiarity to allow people to see you that way and not care a whit. It is a sign of true friendship and part of being in the clan.

In the morning there is no social adrenaline. No hyperactivity. The day has just begun. There has yet to be a crisis. There are no texts, tweets, calls or emails. No one has fallen. Or cut their foot. Not one person has been bitten by a mosquito. Yet.

And we are sober. We aren’t full of beer, wine, booze or edibles.

In fact, we aren’t full of food either.

It is just a few people in morning garb sharing an incredible drink discovered by the Ethiopians in the 11th century.

Legend has it that a shepherd noticed his goats were unusually energetic after they ate the leaves and berries of a certain tree. That African goat herder tried the same berries, steeping them in hot water. And then he wrote three term papers in an hour.

There is also something about sharing coffee that is communal. When we run to get another cup, we check to see if anyone wants one too. Or we bring the whole damn pot and pour for everyone. There is something about morning coffee that reminds me, a Catholic by birth, of communion, but instead of bread and wine, we share a stimulant.

And somewhere in all of this ritual by the lake is the beauty of a new day aborning, for it holds the promise of fun and laughter and memories. We know we can look forward to the sight of an eagle soaring overhead or the haunting, ancient call of the loon that brings conversation to a halt so we can listen as one to the sound of our primordial past, for I’m convinced that loons sound as the dinosaurs once did.

So, with that being said, does anyone want more coffee?

Cream or sugar?

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at