February 06, 2011

Sunset and the green flash

Sunset as seen from my apartment
Years ago while I was visiting in San Francisco, my brother and I wandered down to the beach to watch the sunset.  We sat on the top of sand dunes at the city beach straight down from the Sunset District, along with many others who had come to see the day close.  It was a cool evening but not so very windy; the air was crystal clear.  At the very second that the sun fell beneath the horizon, we saw the "green flash" and everyone on the beach gasped and then applauded.  This is a rare moment and a rare thing to actually see because the conditions have be right for it to occur.  The "green flash" is a phenomenon caused by refraction of light in the atmosphere.  The fact that so many saw it together was clear evidence for all of us that we hadn't faked or imagined it.  The phenomenon lasts only for about one second.

Angel contemplating the arrival of Spring.
From my apartment I'm seeing great sunsets, predictors of the warm weather to come.  Even brilliant California doesn't usually have this kind of nearly summer weather in the middle of winter.  It's somewhat disconcerting, but everyone is out celebrating.  You just can't help it.  But I'm also realizing, as I have for many years, that I haven't regularly seen a sunset for about 15 years.  The late afternoon and evening sky is completely blocked by trees at Olympia Zen Center.  Even when the light holds on until 10 p.m. there is no wide view of the sky.  There may be an occasional reflection of pink, which makes me think, oh, there must be a nice sunset,  but I don't actually see it.  Times when I've been to the ocean, it has clouded over or rained.

My mother always thought sunset was the saddest point of the day.  She felt lonely when the light began to leave.  Perhaps it meant to her that life was moving along quickly and her children were growing up and growing away from her.  She was affected by nature and she felt a nostalgia that nature can bring.  Although she didn't express it artistically, she certainly appreciated the art that others created having been inspired by nature.
Ryokan would feel nostalgia about the elements:

Dark melancholy
Invades my heart in autumn,
When I sit alone,
Hearing a cold shower pour
Down upon rustling bamboos.

I doubt that many people who witnessed the green flash that night in San Francisco ran home to paint it or write poems about it.  But, we all knew we had received something unusual, perhaps a once in a lifetime experience of it that connected us more deeply to natural life, and something larger than we are alone.  We all clearly celebrated the phenomenon.  I know I will never forget it, but then, I tend to feel that nature is a part of my whole being and I'm thoroughly noticing and enjoying the sunsets here.  As with many, I too feel the importance of natural things such as noticing the sky, the way light falls on trees, the activity of squirrels in the garden, how trees bend and sing in the wind, and how on a gorgeous morning it moves us to say hello with a smile when we pass on the sidewalk.  Ryokan writes:

On the autumn moor,
Glowing with the setting sun,
Amid late flowers
Let me stay with butterflies,
Rapt in a dream of one night.