Tuesday, March 24, 2009

SUNSET SURPRISE

I’m a sunset man. Show me a fiery painted sky and I’ll grab my camera. If the camera isn’t handy, I’ll gape open-mouthed from late-twilight until pitch darkness, “oohing” and “ahhing” all the time. I like dawns too, of course. Some of the best sky colors I’ve ever witnessed occurred in conjunction with the sun finding its way above the eastern horizon. But as a general rule, morning skies tend more toward the pastels, more toward the pinks and pale blues rather than the orange and turquoise and purple of sunset. Dawns are subtle, delicate and genteel, while sunsets take no prisoners, pulling out all the stops as they knock you off your feet. Here along the river, sunsets are particularly enjoyable because of the water. The river along this stretch runs generally north-to-south, though a compass would reveal it’s more like north-northwest-to-east-southeast. Still, if I tell you I live on the east, or lefthand bank of the river as you head downstream, you understand the water is nevertheless between my cottage and the setting sun. Moreover, the river pours over a big riffle just as it reaches the point where the cottage sits, and then opens into a rather wider pool below, with a nice eddy along the far bank. This give me a fine view of both broken and more-or-less quiet water. Why is this water business so important? Because I long ago realized that often the best part of the sunset to be seen is not in the western sky itself—but reflected in or on various landscape features or manmade objects, temporarily transforming them by adding color in extraordinary ways. Often when viewing a sunset, we miss some real treats because we fail to look around…which often means looking behind, away from the sunset, to see what things located to the rearward might be catching its glowing light. Last evening was no exception. The actual sunset—the moments before and after the sun’s disappearance—wasn’t spectacular. And while the western sky did color up a fair amount subsequent to this passage—changing, intensifying over the next twenty minutes before fading away—it still wasn’t one of those jaw-dropping spectaculars. At least not as viewed from where I live, though a friend who lives a few miles northward later sent me an email indicating the show had been dazzling as seen from her viewpoint. This is often the case—cloud cover and similar atmospheric conditions can make all the difference in whether a sunset is sensational or ho-hum; even a mile one way or the other can prove the deciding factor. What was breathtaking here was the sunset as viewed in the river’s riffle. The smoother portions of flowing water became liquid fire, almost like a cascade of hot volcanic lava. The whitewater, on the other hand, seemed to pick up the blues of the sky, and maybe a hint too of red. I don’t know whether you’ll be able to see this latter business, as online color corrections differ greatly from one monitor to the next. But trust me, the actual color mix is there. The image is not manipulated except that I’ve lopped a bit off the right side to square the shot a bit. Also, please double-click to enlarge if you really want to see what a sunset, viewed indirectly via a river, can create. One of the reasons why I so enjoy photography is the way it almost forces me to look at things—to observe, to see what’s really before me in all its amazing variables and nuances, graduations and degrees, overtones, hints, and distinctions. When I focus my camera I focus my eyes and vision…and perhaps my thinking. This image from last evening is of of my favorites. Sunsets and sunrises are common. Barring cloud cover, we get on of each per day. But often, the best of the show created by this regular sky painting is not to be found in the sky, but elsewhere—an infusion of color that’s simply divine.

24 comments:

Val said...

Splendid shot, Grizzled! I not only see the colors, but I feel them as well.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Val…

I think this is one of my favorite shots so far this year. And you're right, you can almost feel the liquid heat and cool froth in the colors.

Gail said...

The photo is wonderful - almost unreal in it's perfection - like a painting - created by an artist's hands rather than nature's splendor.
When I saw the sunset last night I was with three very close friends - there was a burgundy hue that fell over the naked trees that made their branches scream. it was perfection, almost erotic.


Love Gail
peace......

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

It is so neat, the juxtaposition of colors. And so fleeting—a minute or so before, it was more gold; a minute later, more purple; a minute after that…gone.

I have a shot of a sycamore, and another of a box elder, "colorized" by the setting or rising sun. They look unreal.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Interesting shot, Scribe. Lovely colour on the rocks. That business about the reflection being better than the original when it comes to photography is really interesting to me. My late husband, who was a watercolourist, always used to view his pictures through a mirror to see whether he had got things right. I took to doing that with my textiles - somehow the reflection shows up imperfections. Lovely post as usual.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

I often find myself drawn to the abstract view within a natural scene—entranced by some aspect of color, pattern, tone, or texture. I like to fool around with spatial relationships, framing and drawing the eye with negative space or a line, trying to add a little unexpected jolt in there, perhaps edging things along through subtle shading. More and more, I like the "clean" uncluttered, simplified image.

It's interesting you'd employ the old mirror trick on your lovely textiles. But it does work, I suppose because it forces us to examine things from an altered perspective, allows us to concentrate on the total image or piece. Sometimes we become too focused; we see a specific and miss the overall. I've seen photographers and painters turn their pieces upside-down to better evaluate the inclusive elements. With some cameras, of course, you have to learn to compose your image upside-down in the viewfinder, because that's the way the optics show them on your ground glass. Other camera viewfinders reverse them from left to right. Speaking of this type system, an award-winning wildlife photographer I knew said the hardest thing for him to learn, when panning with a moving animal or flying bird, was to keep turning the lens towards the rear of the bird or animal in order to keep it centered in the frame. (Of course, I once drove a high-lift in a factory which had rear steering—meaning you had to turn the steering wheel left to turn right…and I can tell you, after a 12 or 16-hour shift of that, driving my car from the parking lot and along the road home was often rather interesting.)

The Solitary Walker said...

Lovely photo - it really stirs the imagination. I like the abstract quality. And are those long tresses of hair I can see - perhaps of water naiads?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Solitary…

Regarding those naiads…I presume you're speaking of the classical rather than the entomological? If so, what does a fellow say to a naiad in his riffle?

The Solitary Walker said...

Oh no - you don't speak to them! You mustn't disturb their mystery and loveliness in any way. Just admire from the riverbank, speechless.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Solitary…

Well, huh! Rather unneighborly naiads, if you ask me. Perhaps a bit stuck up. Not at all the sort we riverfolk prefer for neighbors. But they can preen in haughty feminine silence, so long as they don't interfere with my smallmouth bass.

The Solitary Walker said...

Since when did the female of the species ever interfere with a man's angling obsession..? She learnt long ago not to intrude. I mean, a bloke doesn't get involved with her hair combing, mirror gazing and synchronized swimming practice, does he?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

What? Hair combing, mirror gazing and synchronized swimming part of the manly arts?

Not in my neck of the woods, Solitary.

Such activities are left to the wimmin' folk. We hunter/gatherers sally forth, fly rod clutched in our hairy paws, scratching what itches, and spend many a blissful hour seeking to toll up yon finny prize…alas, with too often only minimal success.

But dang it man—I don't need any uncommunicative naiads flouncing about in my bass riffle!

Val said...

Grizzled and Solitary...

Oh how I wish I was a naiad...

...then I could come up for air and slap some sense into the both of you.

; ) and a : )

KGMom said...

Well, my comment may tend toward the ordinary--as you and your admirers prattle on about naiads.
Anyway, I was thinking--your comments are after my own heart. I have always thought if I could pick a perfect house and location, I would have an unobstructed view to the west. I would watch each day's sunset.
Having just been in southern Indiana, and having spent time there chasing rather ordinary sunsets, I resonate with your fascination.
The best sunsets I have ever seen, however, are in southern Africa--where the sun absolutely blazes at the end of the day--as if expending the last of the day's pent-up energy.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Val…

Wow! I'm pretty sure both Solitary and I feel far safer with you NOT BEING a naiad.

Though if, perchance, the Great Naiad Queen were to come along and offer you the position…I'm thinking that naiad vow of silence would disqualify you forthwith.

:--)))

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

Admirers? Sparring partners? Fellow inmates? Or just prattling correspondents? Whatever, these things come up; one never knows where your blog will take you. And we did, therefore, feel compelled to deal with the naiad issue today. Who knows what tomorrow might bring?

Now, as to sunsets…I've never been to Africa, but I have spent a bit of time in the tropics and sub-tropics, and they certainly produce some dazzling sunsets. But you know what, many of the most spectacular sunsets I've witnessed were in the north country around Lake Superior and the Canadian Shield.

I grew up in a house that faced west. Toward the sunsets, and also into the prevailing wind. When I was was a child, before our gravel road got paved, in summer that meant a lot of dust coming into the house through the screens in windows and the front door, as passing cars stirred it up off the street. But it also gave us a wonderful view of any and all sunsets—and maybe that's where I my abiding love and interest originated.

And I'm with you on preferring my home—or at least my main living room—have a good view westward.

Rowan said...

I love both dawn and sunsets but,as with you, it is sunset that has the greatest emotional impact on me. I've noticed too that often the best colours are not in the western sky but over my shoulder. I love to watch the sun going down over the ocean - the reflections in the water are beautiful.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rowan…

Sunsets are typically, though not always, the showiest. Dawns aren't as apt to just knock your socks off…though I've witnessed some that could rival any sunset. But I tend to think of dawns as preludes and sunsets as the grand finale.

And you're absolutely right—often a sunset's best show is found over your shoulder, in the east.

The Solitary Walker said...

Re sunsets, I've just come across this in my current rereading of Abbey's 'Desert Solitaire':

'Often the sunset is reflected not only on the mountain peaks, standing like islands in a sea of twilight, but also on ranges of clouds to the east, where the changing colors can be seen - along with flashes of silent, sudden heat lightning - long after they have faded out completely in the west.'

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Solitary…

Abbey is exactly right, although this east color is dependent on hills or mountains of high bluffs—something to catch and reflect back the color. Tall building in a city might do the trick, too.

Several years ago, I "collected" shots of any object, building, whatever with a bright orange sun reflection—sunset or sunrise, but an intense glow like a burst of flame. I think I had maybe 100 views when I quit, but they were really neat, and often of the most common, mundane, things. Windows and metal roofs, signs, bridges, the tops of a stop sign or a tree, when you really began to look, you suddenly found sun reflections everywhere.

I'm sure on your walks you saw sunsets and their colors that were wonderful.

The Solitary Walker said...

Indeed I did. I remember one sunset in particular. I'd been marching for days through fog, dawn till dusk, across the bread basket of Castilla y Leon in northern Spain - a dead flat landscape of long roads straight as a die, and cornfields, and irrigation dykes. The monotony, the uniformity - and the sheer fact you could hardly see your hand in front of your damn face - were testing to the spirit, to say the very least. Then suddenly the fog lifted one afternoon, and the whole of the wide western sky was filled with a spilled paintbox of gaudy colours - umbers, ambers, ochres, purples, cochineals. It was breathtaking, and uplifting after many grey, hemmed-in days. Changing its composition second by second, minute by minute, it gave way to darkness and I entered the little village of Religios where I'd heard a hostel was open all year. It was shut - so I had to walk through the dark a further 6 km to the old town of Mansilla. But the sunset had sparked up the joy again in my heart.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Solitary…

That sunset sounds marvelous, one of those quasi-mystical events that almost exceeds the natural and can be discussed in something approaching spiritual terms. You'll be able to call up that sunset long after many other details of your walk have faded.

Once, I was camped for the night alone on a small island in the middle of a long, narrow lake in the country above Lake Superior. The island wasn't much bigger than a house, perhaps a quarter-acre at most. It was mid-October and the trees were in their full, gorgeous colors—golds and crimson, plum and lemon, and all set against the dark brooding pines and the rocky outcrops. There had been storms that afternoon and the dusk sky was streaked with swirls of clouds and patches of deepening blue.

When the sun set—a lovely northcountry sunset, though no better or worse than many others I've seen—I thought, well, that's the show for today. And then…and then, the entire sky turned to blood and flame, with streaks of indigo and turquoise and purple amethyst, from east to west, north to south—a blaze of dazzling color that that filled the sky from horizon to horizon. Suddenly the loons cut loose, laughing wildly for a minute or two. And then, from the mainland across the channel from the island, back in the tamarack swamp, wolves began to howl—their eerie, wavering cries floating in that great northern silence, not loud, but somehow amplified until the sound carried to all corners and came from every direction. The lake was flat calm, a clear black mirror, and heavens and earth became one, merged into a single entity. And there I sat in the gathering darkness—not just looking at a distant sunset, but smack in the midst of it, a part of the event, swallowed and engulfed and surrounded by sky and color above and below and haunted by wolfsong.

I remember thinking, if it all ended right here, right now, I would not feel slighted. And I've never forgotten a single moment of that experience—I could tell you how the land and water smelled, describe the scent of the driftwood fire and of the jackpines, the cool air against my cheek, and even the rub of the soft flannel shirt collar on my neck.

I wish I could have seen your sunset, too—and I wish you could have seen mine. I know you would have found something of real inner value in the experience.

The Solitary Walker said...

Grizzled, that was lovely - worthy of a post in its own right!

I'm sure we'd all like to hear more, from time to time, of your past backcountry trips.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Solitary…

Your great comment and remembrance just reminded me of this northcountry sunset—and I wanted to share it with you. Never thought about turning it into a post.

But thank you.