sunsets

Until December 21

The only thing my dad seems to remember from high school is the longest and shortest days of the year. As facts go, these are a good pair to know. It’s not that Halloween, which is now less than ten weeks away, can’t be a marker of time coming and going, but there’s something more official about dates based in science. And besides, natural light, more than miniature candies, affects moods and plans. Light makes it easier to be outside, easier to get out of bed, easier to go for a walk after dinner for ice cream. Coming up to June 21, there’s a certain romance to the extending days, when each time the sun still hasn’t set feels like a gift.

June 21 should be my favorite day of the year, but I have a tendency to be sad about things ahead of time. While I did spend most of the evening of the 21st enjoying the late-night lightness, I was already worrying about the shortening days. Still, for a month or so after the solstice, it was easy enough to pretend that the days were staying long. It was bright in the morning, and still light after the streets had quieted down. But now, in the last stretch of August, there’s no fooling. I’m waking up to write in dark skies and finishing my runs in twilight. 

Camus claims “one must imagine Sisyphus happy,” and so I try to find some joy in these shortening days. For most of the summer, I didn’t get to see the western light that fills my apartment in the hour before the sun sets; now I’m here when the great streaks of light inch along my wall. And even though it’s harder to get out of bed in the darkness, there’s a certain satisfaction to watching the morning begin. I feel like a witness to the day’s origin story.

These changes come every year, but somehow, they always surprise me. The shifting light is sort of like that second cousin who was once an idea, then a belly, then a person. Sometimes it’s easy to forget about the passage of time, but then the sunsets before 6 and that kid is in kindergarten. And sooner than you can believe, it’ll be December 21, and the light will start going the other way. Time, however, can only go in one direction: forward.

Radiant Brow

When Frank Lloyd Wright moved to Scottsdale, Arizona to build Taliesin West, there was nothing. It was the 1930s, and Phoenix was just an idea of a city. The outlying areas were deserts. There wasn’t power in Scottsdale, and when FLW first checked out the sight, he camped out. He was in his 70s.

While he was building Taliesin, FLW used to watch the western sunset every night. Phoenix and Scottsdale being so small, there was nothing to obstruct his view of the sun fading into the mountains.

But we all know what happened to the American West. Air conditioners were invented, the fact there wasn’t a natural source of water proved not to be a problem, and eventually, power came to Scottsdale.

Of course, power lines would ruin FLW’s sunset. So he petitioned the government to let him build underground ones. No dice: his designs would be too expensive. (And let’s face it, if FLW made the power lines, somehow they would leak.) And so big, bulky power lines were put up, and Frank Lloyd Wright never took in another western sunset again. And he was so angry that power lines destroyed his sunset he didn’t get electricity at Taliesin for several years.

Frank Lloyd Wright chose aesthetics above everything else. And while I wouldn’t make that same choice—I’d get power as soon as it was available—you have to admire someone who knows where his priorities are.