“To leave out beautiful sunsets is the secret of good taste.” (Dejan Stojanovic.)
Well, occasionally we fail. A spontaneous walk in the evening, without much expectation, and suddenly, there it was, this sunset over the Bay Area, viewed from Tilden Park. In California we are fortunate enough to have the Ocean in the West, which means that the sun sinks into the ocean, if you are living near the coast. We can watch beautiful sunsets every day, and therefore we don’t value them enough. If I missed one today, I can watch another one tomorrow. They are guaranteed for the rest of my life.
I took the following photos from the hills above Berkeley, with a view of San Francisco. Every evening, crowds of students come up to watch, and they hang out with friends for a while, until darkness has set in. This mysterious twilight zone changes moods and separates us for a short period from our daily lives. Even animals feel it, as Adrian Kortlandt, a Dutch ethologist, observed: “Once I saw a chimpanzee gaze at a particularly beautiful sunset for a full 15 minutes, watching the changing colors, and then retire to the forest without picking a pawpaw for supper.”
Often there is silence, especially in the short span of time when the sun hits the horizon and then disappears. The Russian poet Anna Akhmatova writes in one of her poems:
And the sunset itself on such waves of ether
That I just can’t comprehend
Whether it is the end of the day, the end of the world,
Or the mystery of mysteries in me again.”
Sunsets bring out the mystery of human consciousness, and they also bring out amazing colors. The sky becomes more colorful after the sun has vanished. Darkness intensifies the light, and the clouds are caught in between, illuminated from below or behind. How does this short period of change and disappearance, leaving behind a cascade of colors, remind us of our own destiny?
The Internet told me that sunset today was at 6.22pm. Experientially, this is not true. Strictly speaking, the sun is either above or below the horizon, but if we think this way, we miss the essence of sunsets. Dusk is the darkest part of twilight, just before night begins. Day and night are linked in a strange way – there cannot be one without the other, but they cannot exist at the same time. They belong together, yet they are always apart, and the gap in between, the experience of vanishing, is no longer a “fact of the world,” understood in a physical sense. Through this gap other non-physical objects appear. “In silence the three of them looked at the sunset and thought about God.” (Maud Hart Lovelace)
The sun itself becomes a strange inner voice: You will always find me behind the line of the Horizon.