I’m fortunate enough to have a sister who lives a ten minute walk from Pass-a-Grille Beach and the Gulf of Mexico but, on all too many visits, I never see the sand or the Gulf waters or the sun setting into them. On my most recent visit, however, I not only made it to the beach; I also gained an appreciation for how much that setting sun means to people.
I’d just finished dinner at a local seafood restaurant and, stepping outside, noticed that the sun was getting pretty low in the sky. The beach was just two blocks away so I strolled over and took a seat on a bench that faced the water. There were people scattered on the beach in every direction. Some were walking at the water’s edge or jogging. One young couple was playing a one on one game of wiffle ball. Most, it seemed, were simply standing in the sand, looking out to the horizon and the reddening sun.
The sun’s motion in the sky is difficult to discern during most of the day (and who would stare at the glare of a midday sun anyway?) At sunset, however, the sun’s movement can be observed quite easily in the diminishing distance between the sun’s lower edge and the line of the horizon. The scene almost calls for a countdown that concludes with the hiss of the sun dipping into the waves. So, while I wasn’t especially surprised by the number of people waiting in the sand, I was a bit surprised by what happened next. As the last of the sun slipped into the gulf people all along the beach started to applaud. Maybe this display was in part due to the number of spring breakers who were in town to see this exact type of event but I still enjoyed the appreciation behind the ovation.
The next evening I got to enjoy a slightly more scientific sun-related phenomena. If conditions are favorable the last second or two of a sunset may feature a green or blue flash of light. Extremely shoddy research on my part revealed no fewer than four possible causes for this light anomaly and one or two were detailed enough to nearly cause my science anxiety to kick in. Let’s just say that very clear skies are a plus.
We were eating dinner on a restaurant’s second story balcony when Norm, my brother-in-law, reminded us of the sunset and the flash that we should be looking for. I’d tried to see the colorful flash before without success but I was still interested. The sun fell lower and lower and, when it finally slid fully away, there it was. I clearly saw what reminded me of a Pentecost-like tongue of flame on top of the sun. The vision lasted about 1.5 seconds. I don’t recall if there were any applause that evening but, having finally seen the elusive flash of light, I was more than satisfied.
So there’s my late resolution for the new year. Don’t take beaches or large bodies of water for granted. And keep an eye out for dolphins too. They’re always fun to watch.