I wrote this post almost exactly a year ago. The earth turns around the one sun one complete evolution and, one year later, it's remarkable how little has changed.November sunsets are different (and special) because we've turned the clocks back. The time change means sunset catches us by surprise each day. It's too early. Each day's early dark is a shock to the system.
Change, in the solar sense, happens slowly. The hours of daylight dribble away tiny bit by bit. Minutely might be the word, because it’s a matter of a minute or two each day. It’s hard to register slight daily changes.
Where was the sun yesterday? Where is it today? Our eyes can’t tell the difference. We live mostly indoors, instead of outdoors, like our ancestors. Few of us note the change in position of a sunrise from one season to the next, or where it sets on the horizon now as opposed to where it set last June (when the hands of the clock climbed toward nine p.m.).
Or how high, or not so high, it stands in the sky at noon compared to where it stood at 1 p.m. (DST) on the summer solstice.
It’s the sudden loss of that hour that puts the difference in our faces. We miss that extra hour of sunlight at the end of the shortened day. For many it’s the difference between coming home in daylight or in the dark.
Coming home from work in the dark is like saying goodbye to the world, certainly the sunlit world of nature, for the whole work week: “Take it easy, world. I’ll look you up again on the weekend!”
Those of us who work at home or have a more relaxed schedule, whose workday doesn’t hinge around the conventional end of the business day, find it easier to stick our face out of doors during daylight to register the new patterns in the bare trees, count the last orange leaves on the cherry tree, monitor avian life at the bird feeder, or stomp down to the corner store on any excuse to get a mouthful of fresh air.
Some of us watch the light fade from the sky every day as if obeying a ritual in a private religion. For me sunset-staring is never more important than in the short days of November and December. The more time we spend indoors, the more the spectacle of nature is reduced to one simple, remarkable, all-important fact: sometimes light, sometimes dark.
Sunset -- twilight -- early dark: it catches us in traffic on the way home. Or we pass a big plate glass window walking the corridors of some temple of commerce, or medicine, or academe. The sky is painting its big message in broad strokes and bright colors. Daytime is over. Prepare for a lengthy period of lightlessness: hibernation recommended.
We’re still natural enough beings to feel this. The advent of electric lighting changed the human experience of night. Darkness is now more of an inconvenience we can quickly remedy (unless a not-so freak storm takes the power lines down) than the serious barrier to human activity it posed for all the millennia of our species’ existence up to a century ago.
But sunsets speak to secret places in our minds. Slow down, they say, have a care. Find shelter, warmth, companionship. Maybe a storyteller and a glass of grog.
And the annual plunge backward in time makes us more aware of them now than at any other time of year. Maybe that’s why they seem more beautiful, certainly more stirring, than ever.