dailybell2008: Some observations

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Some observations

Dawn's Early Light
Since starting this project, I have become conscious of the obvious: the sunrise, like the sunset takes a while. It doesn’t just suddenly get light or dark at the moment the sun crosses the horizon. I have also noticed something interesting and a little less obvious about the moment when the sun crosses the horizon in either direction.

“Dawn’s early light” is only the beginning of the prelude to the actual event where the sun comes into view. That early grey morning light that so gradually reanimates our surroundings is just the beginning. What the darkness made still and unfamiliar, that early light instills with color once again. Color. It’s suddenly day and not night, but it’s still early. When that grey becomes rosy, it looks similar to late in the day.

Since starting this practice, the first time I saw brilliant color in the sky, I thought I had already missed the sunrise. The sky was blazing with bright pink and orange clouds, but according to the schedule, it was a few minutes before the predicted time. I immediately thought of something someone said about bird watchers. On “If there is a discrepancy between the bird and the bird book, believe the bird”. So I thought, well the chart is off.

Upon subsequent examinations, however, I saw that the quality of the light changed very noticeably at the time when the sun was closest to the horizon. As the sun breeched the horizon, much of the color in the clouds and the sky briefly faded to grey and was replaced by a sort of sky-neutral blue. Once the sun crossed the threshold of the horizon, the pink and gold crept back in and softly spread across the sky. The sky was less spectacular than before, but suddenly everything began to brighten. Within a few minutes, it was not early anymore.

It occurred to me then that this was much like the sunset in reverse. Not so much the actual colors, but the timing and transformation of the light in the sky and on the surface of the earth. The sunrise took about as long to fill the world with light and color and it did for the sunset to drain it.

The rotation of the earth is a constant. The speed of rotation is also steady. We may notice the changing length or position of shadows. Or note the path and direction of the sun or moon as it travels across the sky. Of we concentrate we can sometimes actually see these things change. But the changes are usually gradual. And it’s much easier to track the changes if we have a point of reference. There have been times when I’ve fallen asleep outside in the sun. It’s so nice and warm, and the shade from the nearest tree seems far, far away. Gradually my hand or foot will fall into the shade while the rest of my arm or leg is still in the sun, and chill will spread through me as the shade continues to cover the ground where I am resting.

The horizon is one of the most dramatic points of reference that we use to gage the movement of the earth. The progression towards and away from that line is constant and inevitable. But our perception of the changes immediately before and after the horizon passes the sun is accelerated. And once crossed there is no going back. Everything changes dramatically and irrevocably. The finality of crossing a line that marks the end of one thing and the beginning of something else at exactly the same time is elemental. The Hindu goddess Kali embodies that moment of creation and destruction. Let there be light. Birth and Death. Unlike the line between birth and death, we can experience the line between night and day on a daily basis.

I don’t quite know how to describe that precise moment where the sun crosses the horizon and how it’s different from what came before and what cones after. It’s not just another point along a gradually changing continuum. The gathering color momentarily fades when the sun touches the horizon, only to reappear once the sun no longer directly shines on the ground. Depending on the direction of the day, the light doesn’t merely fade out and become replaced with darkness. Nor does it simply grow brighter. The light continues to change color as it appears or disappears and illuminates different parts of the sky depending on whether it is below or above the horizon. I’ve noticed the most intense pink colors appear when the sun is below the horizon. Those pink clouds all over the sky appear either just before the sun rises or just after the sun sets. But the actual moment the sun crosses the line- the color often fades and the timing accelerates.

1 comment:

Seth Nehil said...

Hi Brenda,
the most amazing sunset I've ever witnessed was from the top of a mountain in Big Bend National Park, on the border of Texas and Mexico. The closest town is Marathon, a single stop light 50 miles away. For several hours after the sun passed the horizon, a pale streak of light could be seen across the dome of the starry night. The continuity between day and night became much more clear with the lack of light pollution...
Keep ringing!