It is probably close to a month ago now that I was working near the shore in Milford and upon nearing sunset, I decided to head down to the beach to see what the sky would hold for me. Arriving in the parking lot of Gulf Beach, I parked facing a little bay, a line of houses faded into the distance across the water, many still covered in plywood from the Hurricane Sandy that blew through a month before that. Above and beyond the houses, the waning sun was creeping slowly towards its evening slumber. Judging from the clouds infiltrating the sky, pockets of deep blue visible through their failure to completely cast a hue of gray over dusk, I thought that when the sun hit the right spot they would come alive with variant grades of orange, deep pink, and purple. I waited and waited, but the colors I anticipated bursting into the sky briefly before the world plunged into its night time darkness never came. The sun shone brilliantly through a little sliver in the clouds, the oranges and reds stunningly beautiful, but as for the clouds being painted, I never got my chance. I wasn't disappointed, OK, maybe a little because I have come to a point where I can decipher with about 50% accuracy when a sunset will be brilliant or not, but for me it wasn't the end of the world. I was prepared for an awe inspiring moment, but the sun was not ready to deliver one to me. Fast forward about three weeks.
I was driving home from work, the sun more slowly than three weeks previously edging towards the horizon. As I was driving through the hills and valleys of lower interior Connecticut, I couldn't pinpoint where the sun was or actually see it anymore. All I could see was the sky slowly deepening, embracing the coming night in all its darkness, and what seemed like a patchwork quilt of gray hovering almost motionless in the sky. I didn't think much of the sky, or the clouds for that matter, but as I got closer and closer to home, the edges of the clouds began to take on a slight pinkish orange hue, lines of color defining an otherwise bland and uneventful bank of clouds. I drove a little faster, the gas pedal reaching for the floor. I wanted to see the sky in all its glory even though I knew deep down that I would only get a moment to appreciate it in all its splendor. Driving up the road to my house, it happened, that moment when dusk briefly turns back to day, the clouds in one last hurrah absorbing and reflecting the sun's last moments before plunging the world into temporary paralysis. The clouds, not filling the whole sky but rather seeming to gather and mill around my neighborhood, took on such brilliant colors I was left momentarily breathless. The edges were adorned with regal yellowish orange which upon reaching towards the tail end of the clouds morphed into a pink so deep and brilliant that all the houses beneath looked like that had been sprayed in that same color. I stared upwards in between furtive glances at the road and the cars in front of me, hoping that no idiot driver would slam on his/her brakes. I absorbed it all, the subtly changing colors, the clouds inching along like a snail trailing its way through thick sand, and pasted it in my memory for future glimpses and reflections.
These two experiences, juxtaposed as they were in my mind, taught me that I need to be ready for the sunset on its terms, not mine. As much as we can plan to capture a brilliant sunset either on film or in our minds, we truly never know what nature has on its dinner plate for us. I remember when I was in photography school and spent many hours on the shore hoping to capture that perfect sunset or sunrise. Half the time I would stand there for hours in the cold, waiting and waiting, never hitting the shutter release because nothing really happened. The sun would rise beyond the clouds and the world would turn from dark gray to light gray. Occasionally I would snap a picture even though I knew it would not meet my standards. Yet other times I would be snapping photos endless for hours, every inch the sun rose or set bringing new and fantastic colors to the sky. There was one time when the whole sky seemed to be caught in a golden fire, looking as if God had taken a gallon of gold and slowly let it spill over everything. We just never know what we will see or when we will see it. We could prepare endlessly and end up with nothing or we could be totally unprepared and end up with brilliance. Have you ever been caught unaware by nature's brilliance? Have you ever been ready for it and not have it arrive? Maybe we all would do well to be in perpetual state of readiness, never knowing what might happen or what will make its known to us.