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Watching the sun set

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It was a clear, warm November day, so I headed to the Oregon coast on a spur-of-the moment jaunt.  I have to remind myself, periodically, that the Pacific Ocean is only two hours away.  I wanted to watch the sun set; the beaches were almost empty, the sunset would happen between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m.

The most underwhelming sunset I witnessed was in Santorini, Greece, a few years ago.   Watching the sun set from Santorini is on those Ten Best Lists made up by travel agencies. The picture I had seen was of a couple sitting at a little table, toasting each other with their glasses of wine, the white-washed walls of a boutique hotel and blue domed roofs of Oia behind them, the ocean in the foreground.  The reality was thousands of sweaty tourists crushed against each other on narrow pathways overlooking the western horizon, each holding a smart phone above his/her head, like some weird worship ceremony of raised smart phones, which I guess it was.  People were so consumed with capturing the picture of the sun sliding behind the sea that they didn’t see the actual event. 

There were hazy marine bands low on the horizon.  The sun slipped behind gray clouds, not reflecting pink or gold, before setting.  Then the crush of people headed back to their tour buses or hotels. It was much ado about nothing.

North Dakota’s prairies produce magnificent sunsets – long horizons, vast skies, clouds billowing maybe from recent thunderstorms.  The piles of cumulus reflect the changing shades into dusk – gold, pink, magenta, indigo.  Minnesota lakes reflect the colors of sunset; I remember, more than once, pulling to the side of a road as a magnificent red sky reflected on some otherwise unremarkable pond or lake, often times silhouetting ducks and water birds flying down for the evening’s refuge.

The sun setting over Oregon’s coast was lovely enough.  The beaches were wide open, a few dozen of us scattered across the wide stretches of sand.  Large, colorful kites in the shape of fish, birds, turtles flew in the late afternoon as locals put their art in the sky.  I was busy looking and was surprised by a wave that scrambled up farther than the waterline; the tide was starting to come in, and had soaked my shoes and filled my socks with sand.

Living in the shadow of mountains or hills, on days which are frequently cloudy, can mean that sunsets are rare.  The sun dips behind a hill, and we live in indirect light for some period of time, especially in this season of short daylight hours. 

I miss the prairies more than I would know, and seeing the sun set is one of those small daily pleasures I have traded for milder winters and a vertical landscape.  If you live with a horizon and a reflective landscape, enjoy.  Watch the sun set for me.

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