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Last sync:2023-01-19 22:30
In which John talks about sunset and civil twilight from America's third coast.

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Good morning, Hank, it's Tuesday.  So I'm on vacation on the shores of Lake Michigan and last night, twilight looked like this.  I learned yesterday that the first half hour or so after the sun sets is called civil twilight, because it's considered by some governments to be legally still daytime.  Like, centuries ago, nighttime burglary was often considered a more serious crime than daytime burglary and criminals would sometimes seek lesser sentences by claiming that they'd robbed a house not at night, but during civil twilight.  

I just love that phrase 'civil twilight'.  The adjective 'civil' makes almost every noun better, except war.  Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about sunsets this week, because the ones here in Michigan are so ostentatiously beautiful.  Like, back home in Indiana, the light often gets grey and then greyer until it's dark, but here in Michigan, at least at this time of year, these sunsets are mundane, they're ordinary.  Which also makes them cliche, of course, I mean, the beauty of sunsets and the civil twilights that follow is by now so cliche that it's difficult to say anything interesting about them.  Like, e.e. cummings' famous sunset poem which goes, "Who are you, little I, five or six years old, peering from some high window at the gold of November sunset and feeling that if day has to become night, this is a beautiful way."  It's a good poem, but it only works because cummings' situations the observation in childhood when one is presumably too innocent to have yet realized how lame it is to write about sunsets, and yet a good sunset is beautiful and better still, universally so, like our ancestors didn't eat like us or travel like us.  Their relationship to ideas as fundamental as light and time were vastly different from ours, but every human who has lived more than a few years on this planet has seen a beautiful sunset and paused to spend one of the last moments of day to be grateful for and overwhelmed by the light.

But even now, I'm swimming in sentimental waters.  How do you celebrate a sunset without being cheesy?  Maybe state it in cold facts.  So here's what happens.  Before a beam of sunlight gets to your eyes, it has millions of interactions with molecules that cause the so-called scattering of light.  Different wavelengths are sent off in different directions when interacting with say, oxygen or nitrogen in the atmosphere, but at sunset, the light travels through the atmosphere longer before it reaches our eyes so that much of the blue and purple has been scattered away before it reaches us.  

I think it's helpful to know how sunsets work and I've never bought the romantic notion that scientific understanding somehow robs the universe of its beauty, but it still doesn't communicate much about how I felt looking at this absolutely routine, totally extraordinaria civil twilight.  How it felt to look at something that was as beautiful as it was normal and to be comforted both by the beauty and the normalcy.  

So, anyway, I tried to photograph it, because, you know, that's what people do, but of course the camera couldn't capture how I felt in the space between yesterday and last night and apparently neither can my voiceover.  All I can say is that sometimes the world stops me cold and I feel my smallness and you'd think that would be sad but it isn't.  It only makes me grateful.  Toni Morrison once wrote that "at some point in life, the world's beauty becomes enough.  you don't need to photograph, paint, or even remember it.  it is enough." so I turned off my camera and it was.  It was enough.

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.