This New Year, Watch as Many Sunsets as Possible

A Ventura, CA sunset. | Photo: Hank Tovar

Of late, we've been experiencing sunsets ridiculously beautiful even by Southern California standards, paint spilled in the heavens and smeared across the skies.

They are beyond words, these sunsets. People stand transfixed: on their balconies, in their front yards, on the beach, on our pier here in Ventura (one of the finest places in the world to watch a sunset). Drivers pull to the side of the road.

We stand quietly watching something we have watched a thousand times before.

At this time of year, perhaps we also consider sunsets a bit longer. They are tinged with glorious colors, yes, but as another calendar year tears away they are tinged with poignancy too. I cannot say what the balcony starers, the pier gazers, and the roadside gawkers are thinking, but I can guess. Memories of times past. Dreams of future memories. Musings on accomplishments and regrets, of things gained, and opportunities missed. Paths chosen, and so, paths bypassed. Despite our differences -- cultural, political, religious -- when we watch a sunset we are all very much alike. Sometimes -- no matter how beautiful the sunset -- we forget the sky entirely.

As a travel writer, I have been unfairly graced with sunsets. I have watched the sun set in the Andes; seen the last light retreat from white sand South Pacific beaches and granite Yosemite faces. In the Galapagos gloaming (North Seymour Island), I watched the setting sun turn tide pools silver and cast a not-really-last gauzy glow on kite-size frigate birds, sea lions and marine iguanas emitting mighty chuffs that expelled milky streams of seawater from their nostrils. Nature's pitch perfect soundtrack.

A sunset seen in Ventura, CA. | Photo: Hank Tovar

Sometimes I have orchestrated my sunsets. Once, camping on Santa Rosa Island, I built an entire day of hiking around a single arrival, so that I stood within a glen of island oaks. The oaks are found nowhere else in the world except this quiet island some 26 miles off the Southern California coast. Greater fun still, like many island species the oaks are strangely small, not much taller than a man. And so, as the sun fell, I wandered among their mottled trunks and half-size fluttering leaves imagining myself a giant. In the falling light the shadows appeared reluctant, and the leaves fairly glowed, and where shadow had not yet reached, the sun dappled the canopy of fallen leaves with the softest gold. It was an ethereal place, a place of elves and fairy creatures and giddy hope. Six years have passed since this particular sunset, yet as I write this I again entertain goose bumps and the same simple thought. Everyone should have a place like this.

Happy beauty, we do. For as the day disappears it doesn't matter where you stand, as long as you pay attention.

Although I miss many moments in this life, I have tried very hard to pay close attention to sunsets. I try not to neglect them. The other night, driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, the sun already low to a dark ocean, I yanked the car off to the side of the road and my best friend and I scampered, laughing, up the steep sandy slope that crawls high up against the Santa Monica Mountains. If you drive the Pacific Coast Highway between Oxnard and Los Angeles you know the place. Up we scampered and laughed. Well, my best friend scampered and laughed, for she is in better shape than I am. I may have trudged and huffed a little. When we reached the top, my wife and I sat close and watched another day go.

As we all know, the days go.

Yes, sunsets are lovely. They soothe us and lift us up, whispering of something.

Endings are beginnings.

Happy New Year.

About the Author

Ken McAlpine’s latest book “Together We Jump” was praised by Sunset Magazine as “lyrical, evocative and deeply moving…a luminous American novel.” He is based in Ventura, California.
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