The colors splay across the November sky; purples, pinks, and deep streaks of orange, as if a bit of splendid Halloween magic still lingered there in the sunset, low and close, like a painted ceiling, so beautiful it breaks your heart.
Due to some tilt of the earth, condition of the hemisphere, pollution, or global warming, the November/December colors are the most breathtaking, riotous, and otherworldly of the whole year.
It’s as if God were saying, “OK, you’ve just about made it through another year, I know it wasn’t easy, and, oh, don’t look now but Christmas is just around the corner, so you’re going to need all the help you can get (especially hanging the lights and good luck at the mall). Now, I’ll try to check in from time to time but this is my busy season, so I can’t make any promises, but I’ll give you this. These sunsets. They’re about the best I can do.”
And somehow, thank you, God, they are enough.
In the middle latitudes and over the United States, fall and winter generally produce the most spectacular low sun hues.
—Stephen F. Confidi National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
I’m working in a place we used to own, wearing pearls and selling burgers waiting for poetry or a big tip, when the sky explodes outside the window. It is all-encompassing, commanding attention, outrageous in the myriad of hues on display. Suddenly, I stand with others, customers, passing strangers who have stepped outside to view such glory. Together we are part of the turning planet, transported under a deepening sky, living here and now with awe in our hearts. I got my poetry.
She stands focused on the day’s decay, as a calm descends upon her with the weight of a falling star.
She has found the peace in the flushing quiet that has consumed her mind.
—”She Stands Watching the Sunset,” by Hunter Dasten
If you drive along Pacific Coast Highway, that iconic stretch of road running alongside the Pacific Ocean, it can, should be beautiful, “The end of a perfect day,’” as Steely Dan sings. But if the day hasn’t been perfect, traffic is bumper-to-bumper and a sports car I can’t even identify with a license reading, IT Guru, is dangerously zigging in and out of lanes, and you once wore a bikini over there on Sorrento Beach, and you’re out of cat litter but don’t want to stop at Vons, and hate seems the message of the times, there is no joy in Mudville.
Then amidst the stalled line of vehicles, I glance up, out over the ocean, and there it is. A blazing sunset, as if produced, because, after all, this is L.A. by a lighting designer with fiber optics or one of those laser projectors used for Christmas. It shimmers above a sea now turned opal and reflecting back the light. It’s a gift just to us, with our brake lights glowing red, palm trees silhouetted, and just one star shining, turning that drive into art, of which we are all a gasping, part, even the IT Guru. Alive on the edge of the continent.
We are a coast people. There is nothing but ocean beyond us.
The first thing coming.
I once rode a bicycle at dusk, down the familiar neighborhood streets, with some wild autumn joy in my heart. I was young and the whole world smelled like Windsong perfume. An orange sky glowed above, lighting up the road before me guiding me home as something, maybe the bicycle wheels, called my name.
Pollution affects the color of sunsets, painting them orange and was common in the smog-filled skies of the San Fernando Valley in the 1960s.
—Foley High Newspaper and Getty Images
On a New Year’s Eve, wearing a paper crown, I stood with friends, firm and fast on a balcony in Baja, beneath the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen, laughing and ready to usher in the 1980s. That sky was filled with promises.
Moleclues and small particles in the atmosphere change the direction of light rays, causing them to scatter, resulting in colorful sunsets…because the sun is low on the horizon, sunlight passes through more air at sunset than during the day.
There is a picture of my children outside a cabin in Big Bear on a Thanksgiving evening. They are smiling, my daughter missing teeth and my son holding an enormous pinecone. Behind them the sky has gone mad with carnival-colored clouds, like a photo backdrop placed there for effect.
Clouds are essential to a good sunset as they capture the light like a canvas.
I used to see a man leave his place of business across the street from where I worked and walk down the short block to the beach to watch the sunset. I married him.
“It’s as good as it gets.” Comment made while observing a sunset from the deck of room 101, Riviera Beach Hotel, Laguna CA, 1998.
There are creatures influenced and moved by the moon—coyotes, grunion, werewolves—but can it really be that we humans are the only species on the planet that can appreciate a sunset? Does a cow look up? The turtle in his pond? The rabbit on her run? No, it is us, we humans. What a great responsibility! And how sad to think that if our species were somehow wiped from the earth (could happen), that sunsets would still grace the sky but without anyone to see them. Or would they grow subdued and dull, having stopped trying to show off because their audience had exited the planet?
The true beauty of sunsets is that, like fireworks, they do not last. They hang suspended for but a while, brilliant and blazing before they fade, then gone. But, for that short time, they are ours. In the middle of this tenuous, fragile, scrabbling life, where we ‘grasp at the first thing that comes’ but can never hold, for a moment they are ours.