by Ken McAlpine
As we all know, our lucky town experiences sunsets second to none. They are beyond words, these sunsets. People stand transfixed: on their balconies, in their front yards, on the beach. Drivers pull to the side of the road.
Paint spilled in the heavens and daubed, perfectly imperfect, across the sky.
We stand quietly watching something we have watched a thousand times before.
At this time of year, perhaps we also consider sunsets a bit longer. They are tinged with glorious colors, yes, but as another calendar year tears away, they are tinged with poignancy too. I cannot say what the balcony starers, the beach gazers and the roadside gawkers are thinking, but I can guess. Memories of times past. Dreams of future memories. Musings on accomplishments and regrets, of things gained, and opportunities missed. Paths chosen, and so, paths bypassed. Despite our differences — cultural, political, religious – when we watch a sunset we are all very much alike. Sometimes – no matter how beautiful the sunset — we forget the sky entirely.
As a travel writer, I have been unfairly graced with sunsets. I have watched the sun set in the Andes; seen the last light retreat from white sand South Pacific beaches and granite Yosemite faces. In the Galapagos gloaming (North Seymour Island), I watched the setting sun turn tide pools silver and cast a not-really-last gauzy glow on kite-size frigate birds, sea lions and marine iguanas emitting mighty chuffs that expelled milky streams of seawater from their nostrils. Nature’s pitch perfect soundtrack.
Sometimes I have orchestrated my sunsets. Once, camping on Santa Rosa Island in our very own Channel Islands National Park, I built an entire day of hiking around a single arrival, so that I stood within a glen of island oaks at just the right time. These island oaks, they are found nowhere else in the world except this quiet island some 26 miles off the Southern California coast. Greater fun still, like many island species the oaks are strangely small, not much taller than a man. And so, as the sun fell, I wandered among their mottled trunks and half-size fluttering leaves imagining myself a giant. In the falling light the shadows appeared reluctant, and the leaves fairly glowed, and where shadow had not yet reached, the sun dappled the canopy of fallen leaves with the softest gold. It was an ethereal place, a place of elves and fairy creatures and giddy hope. Six years have passed since this particular sunset, yet as I write this I again entertain goose bumps and the same simple thought. Everyone should have a place like this.
Happy beauty, we all do. Here in Ventura, and anywhere else. For as the day disappears, it doesn’t matter where you stand, as long as you pay attention.
As we all know, the days go.
Yes, sunsets are lovely. They soothe us and lift us up, whispering of something.
Endings are beginnings.
Happy New Year.