With such a lovely voice you chime
Playful song sparrow
Brightening my morning coffee time
It will be a good day
A loud and distinct song you sing
A final act before the evening
It will be a good night
(This is the fifth post in a series about a recent train trip across the Canadian prairies. The first in the series is here.)
For a while, I shield my eyes from the blinding sun peeking directly in the dome-car’s front windows. The dazzle subsides when we eventually turn northwest and follow the meandering Assiniboine River, which at times consists of little more than a lazy creek in this area—after drought-like conditions through the summer—and a collection of orphaned oxbows.
We race the sun toward the horizon as the shadows stretch onto the plain, and the sun’s golden light turns the train’s metallic skin into liquid bronze. The passengers seated in the dome-car cheer, gasp, point their cameras, and smile at the spectacle. While the sky takes on a hundred different pastel hues, a dreamy palette to paint an unforgettable scene, the trees turn to black, backlit by the setting sun. I feel dwarfed by this grandeur and privileged to witness such beauty.
The terrain changes abruptly at St. Lazare, where the two deep scars carved into the prairie by the Qu’Appelle and Assiniboine rivers meet, accentuated by the deep shadows cast by the fading sunlight. The sun soon disappears below the horizon.
Preoccupied—fixated may be a better word—with losing the sun for another night, I failed to notice the latest celestial contender. Bends in the river flash at irregular intervals, reflecting the half-moon’s light, revealing Selena’s presence in the southern sky: a new beacon to lighten our journey into Saskatchewan. The silver rails thread through green, yellow, and red signal lights, pointing the way forward.
The cadence of the wheels on the metal track continues, ticatoc-ticatoc—ticatoc-ticatoc, like a well-rehearsed drum track to this rocking and rolling ballad. However, the sound of the whistle has softened, blanketed by the falling night. The train’s passengers curl into their reclined seats, or slip into freshly-turned beds, summoning sleep. Good night.
What if the moon got stuck, forever casting shadows
Stopping todays from becoming tomorrows
Fear not such a lasting concealment
Eclipses last but a moment
Gentle waves lap at the beach
Then retreat out to sea slowly
Eager diners, plovers and sandpipers
Scurry about for a quick bite
All at once, it seems, the sun disappears
Drawing a straight dark line on the horizon
Separating midnight blue water
From an ever-darkening liquid copper sky
No wonder our planet was once flat
Or so our forefathers thought
Because way out there lies that boundary
Between what we see and what we must believe
The verge of consciousness, present and future
Between today and tomorrow, now and infinity
Stretched out further than our eyes can see
The last discernible word on the page
Where sailboats must surely end their voyage
Bow rising on the final whitecap, the instant
Before floating downward into the unknown
Having reached the edge of the earth…
Some things you never forget…
At the edge of the Saint-Lawrence,
The shadow of Mont Royal at dusk,
Montreal’s skyline painted on the sky.
Bridges stretching over the river:
Mercier, Champlain, Jacques-Cartier.
Umbilical cords, life lines of every day;
Links to memories of our youth…
Where we learned to skip stones on the water
Under the watchful eye of my father.
Giant laker ships sailing by, steaming on
We’d jump when their horn blared, scared.
Cast a red and white spoon, treble-hooked,
Fishing for the biggest northern pike,
But settled for a colourful perch, or the crappie,
Hook, line and sinker swallowed forever;
Long walk home, fishing pole on our shoulders.
A corollary to Setting of the Sun
It was the time when night would rise from the gray waters of the [Saint-Lawrence] river.
“C’était l’heure où la nuit sortait des eaux grises du fleuve.” Jacques Poulin, Chat Sauvage
We are, well at least I am, creatures of habit. Often, if not always, we see things in the exact same way, and it would take quite a shock for us to think they could be otherwise. Such is the case with sunsets.
We have come to know and describe sunsets as an end—the end of day—likely because of the events that the term conjures, as that time of day when the sun reaches for the horizon, its light dimming, the colours of the sky changing, the night approaching. That time of day could also be know as “night rise;” we could describe dusk with reference to what the night is doing, instead of what the sun is doing…
Colours slowly dissolve, giving way to darkness
Creatures of the night shift about, mostly undetected
Movements become more deliberate, almost tentative
Sounds travel long distances to reach attentive ears
Stars brighten, twinkle, night visions
The black shroud wraps itself around our world
Signalling a time for sleep… Sweet dreams.
The few white puffy clouds provided little respite from the mid-afternoon sun. When I started to sizzle, literally, I ventured out into the salty Pacific water to brave the strong shore-break waves of Big Beach at Makena State Park, on Maui’s southwest tip. I was surprised at how warm the water felt. I swam, I floated, I let the powerful waves carry me back to the shore, again and again. The turquoise water so clear, I could see my feet.
A little later, the young lady sitting on the beach a few feet from us went for a swim wearing her wide-brim straw hat, never losing it, not even once. Her long, powerful, even strokes propelled her down the beach; she swam gracefully, gliding across the water, all the while keeping that large hat on her head. She smiled at us on her way back to her spot in the hot sand. A connection. Kindred spirits for a short while, enjoying the hot sand, the refreshing water, the beat of the surf, and later the sunset.
I set up my tripod on the dune at the edge of the brush, getting ready for daylight to give way to dusk. I returned to my beach chair.
— Getting some good shots? the young lady asked, shielding her eyes from the bright sun.
Caught by surprise, a little, I snapped a couple more of the beach, and of my wife sitting on her beach chair.
— I did, thanks! How about you? She waved her smartphone with a thumbs up.
It seemed people left the beach too soon, like fans flocking from the arena when the outcome of the game is already decided; the home team won’t come back. Maybe that’s how beachgoers felt as the clouds moved swiftly across the sun, convinced the game was out of reach. I could count on the fingers of both hands the remaining faithful bystanders who weren’t keeping score. The bright red ball appeared to slide down the Kaho’olawe Island slopes, into the jagged edges of the darkening ocean.
— Good luck with those beach chairs! she said, as we walked away with the chairs still open (I had fussed with them a few minutes—the bad news bears—and capitulated, afraid to break them), the connection about to be broken.
A few hundred feet up the beach, I managed to “unlock” the chairs and fold them, letting out a scream of victory, pointing my fist to the sky. A wave. Goodbye.
An earlier post, and a cropped picture (provided above un-cropped), alluded to spotting whale spouts on the horizon while watching the sunset. Unfortunately, I hadn’t come prepared for shooting whale spouts two kilometres out from the beach. Nevertheless, I pushed my 18-75mm lens to its limit and focused on the spouts. I planned on coming equipped just for whale watching the next evening, with my 300mm zoom and tripod. I was in for quite a surprise…
So captivated by the spouts (and whales) on the left of the viewfinder, while composing with the background sloping island and clouds, I never saw what was happening just inside the right edge of my shot. Yes, pure coincidence! I only noticed this breaching humpback a few hours later, while processing that evening’s photos on my laptop.
Could this be a case of missing the forest for the trees? Or not seeing the big picture? Maybe a little bit of tunnel vision? I’d rather call it pure luck, a series of photographs and an experience to be treasured for a lifetime.
The warm sand cradles our feet and fills the space between our toes…
The sun’s dip toward the Pacific Ocean attracts many spectators on Kamaole Beaches, and on the low brick wall separating the beach from the road. Chairs, beach mats, tripods, cameras: ready for the show.
We spot a column of white spray on the horizon—a spout—and soon a second, indicating the presence of whales; turns out they like sunsets too. More spouts, fin slaps, a big splash and a fluke bring a certain sense of elation at spotting these giants of the sea, right there in front of us.
They disappeared from sight, maybe watching the sunset while floating and swaying to the rhythm of the waves.
The sun dove straight for the Pacific without a splash or a fizzle and left everyone who’d been watching in a good mood. Sunsets have that magical effect on people…
I told you I loved sunsets…
What is it about sunsets that we find so captivating, calming, inspiring, moving even? Maybe it’s the enchantment of the infinite hues of red, orange, yellow, pink, purple, gray. Or the pure awe of watching that immense ball of fire disappear below the horizon, into the earth, or swallowed by the ocean, knowing that it will rise again tomorrow. How cheated we feel when clouds float by, stealing the show, yet clouds can add to the beauty of the spectacle, in their own way.
Sunsets are a time of peace, quiet, reflection, sharing. They are moments that we love to stretch for as long as we can, always over too soon. I love sunsets (I also love sunrises) for their colours and for the feeling of peacefulness—I get that peaceful, easy feeling—that accompanies them.
As you can imagine, I built quite a collection of sunsets from a recent visit to Maui. I’ll be posting a few here and there over the next weeks. Enjoy!