Like most people in the northern hemisphere this time of year, I find myself coming and going during the darkest parts of the day. And, like so many northerners, the short days and long nights of winter have me departing for the bus stop before sunrise and back outside, waiting for the bus to take me home, just as the sun is falling behind the mountains.
My days are full of sunrises and sunsets.
The spot where I catch my bus in the morning is situated on a hilltop with a nice view of the city. (Also, a very lovely cemetary across the way.) The east-facing view is fringed with pale, snow-capped mountains and rolling foothills of national forest. Sometimes—on rare, unpredictable occasions—we commuters are treated to the sounds of a carillon.
But always, of course, the sun. New Mexico is a sunny place. Even days that turn out overcast (they do happen) often start out clear. But the best sunrises happen when there’s just the right amount of cloud cover: not so much to throw gloom on the nascent day, but not so little that the sunrise is bereft of texture. The best clouds for sunrise are those that hover just west of the mountains, not far above the rounded peaks, with a thick opaque upper deck and a more tenuous, flocculent lower deck.
First, the Belt of Venus disappears. Then the easternmost and uppermost edges of the clouds turn from a nightshadow gray to coal-cherry red. Over the course of a few minutes, as the sun rises behind the mountains, the fire spreads through the clouds. The color passes through more shades than I have the ability to describe, through firetrrucks to cherries, and salmon, and tangerines. I play a game with myself; I try to devise apt descriptions for particular hues. I fail. We never had the big crayon box when I was little.
And then, when the sun hasn’t quite crested the highest peaks of the mountains, the first direct rays of daylight come pouring through the lower valleys. This light is low and horizontal, collimated by the mountains and the clouds. And, when conditions are right, it shines right through the translucent fluff dangling below the thickest clouds.
The sky blazes. There is no blue in the sky. Only fire. And the world below turns orange.
It’s so bright that for a few glorious seconds I swear one could read by cloudlight alone.
And then it’s over.
But, you know, it’s really not such a bad way to start the day. It’s often the best part of the day.
The sunsets don’t touch me quite as much, but that probably has more to do with my being tired and grumpy by the end of the workday. I’ve always been more of a sunrise person, though. But on a really good day it’s possible to watch the same show in reverse while waiting to go home.