Hello SE friends, Gwen with you today, and together we’re going to travel across the country.
Last month I moved from the Midwest to a mountainous area in Arizona. The journey was arduous, but is was also stunningly beautiful. Traveling west, the sun guided the way and as the end of day drew near, the heavens burst into rainbow shades. There were times that I was speechless by the pure majesty.
We all love sunsets. We include them in our stories. We measure time through their visits, create passion in their light, suggest mystery through the shadows. The movement of the sun is very much a part of our writing experience.
But does the sun manifest in the same way across the country, across the planet?
When I arrived in Prescott, Arizona, the sky hung low. It seemed as though I could touch the clouds. And to my surprise, the setting sun burned colors into the horizon that I hadn’t seen before. Vivid colors, almost surreal. And it was this experience that prompted questions and today’s post.
I’ve discovered that sunsets are unique to an area because of several factors, one being elevation. I grew up in the desert, below sea-level. I loved the violet blue evening sky and its fiery orb. That childhood experience, however, is very different from what I now see in the mountains.
Having moved several times, I decided to create a chart to help me visualize the difference in altitude of each city. The markers on the chart below represent the locale and the numbers indicate the altitude of that area. As you can see, my last move is quite different from the other areas where I’ve lived. It’s no wonder the sunsets are different, but I’ve learned that elevation is only part of the explanation.
As I delved into the sunset phenomenon, I quickly realized that there are a number of contributors to the red skies we see – clean air, cloud cover, humidity, and temperature. I’m sure there are other factors as well, but for today’s purposes, I’ll focus on these.
We all know that airborne particulates reduce the light. They also lead to muted or subdued colors. So if we live in a city where there is smog, our sunsets will not be the same as those in the deserts or at the beaches or in the mountains. But interestingly, during late fall and winter, the city skies change. The air circulation shifts and with it, the sun’s display. As pollution decreases, the setting sun becomes more vivid, which is one of the reasons that autumn is a much loved season.
When you describe a sunset in your stories, do you mention the season or whether the sky is clear? I don’t believe I’ve done so, but I suspect I will now.
Let’s look at the other components. The most dramatic sunsets have decks of clouds. Paulo Coelho was correct when he wrote, “Don’t forget: Beautiful sunsets need cloudy skies.” The clouds catch the last red-orange rays of the setting sun and reflect this light to the ground. The next time you watch the evening sun, take special note of the clouds. I think you’ll find that they can transform your twilight experience.
Humidity and temperature also have an important role. It’s the monsoon season in my area. Winds stir slightly towards the end of day and lower both the humidity and the temperature. This helps to enhance the colors and scatter light, and in this mountainous area, they produce amazing blood-orange and pink hues.
Have you noticed a difference in sunsets through the seasons or as you’ve traveled across the country? This was a first for me. Like everyone else, I’ve always been entranced by the setting sun. But prior to this trip, I hadn’t thought of a sunset as being area-specific. Now I know that when I include a description of the evening sky in one of my stories, I need to pay attention to the locale, the time of year, and the other factors as well.
It seems to me that the sun splashes its glory uniquely across the planet, and we each have a privileged viewing seat. When we write, we choose which sunset we want to capture. We set the tone with color. We build tension with shadows. We craft our fictional world with images, real or unreal.
To close, I want to share a beautiful quote from Mary Balogh’s book, A Summer to Remember. She writes, “And yet day and night meet fleetingly at twilight and dawn … And their merging sometimes affords the beholder the most enchanted moments of all the twenty-four hours. A sunrise or sunset can be ablaze with brilliance and arouse all the passion, all the yearning, in the soul of the beholder.”
Could it be that “the soul of the beholder” is our audience? What do you think? I’d so love to hear.
Thank you for joining me today. Till the next post, happy sunset gazing!