An expat recently told me about a man in San Pancho who has watched “Every single sunset since he moved here.”
San Pancho being a small village, I chose to say something kinder than “He’s lying,” but harsher than, “Really, is that possible?”
“He’s counting?” I finally asked.
I need to add a little perspective here. I love sunsets. I have loved them from the time I was a little kid. I loved them on every single vacation I ever took. I did not bother with them much in my real life. I did not rush to the window to watch the sun set over my Hicksville, Long Island neighborhood or from the Berkshire river valley where I lived for the last 30 years. Sunset watching takes time and location and, frankly, sun, which is rare in the northeast.
Of course, everything, including sunsets, changed when I moved to Mexico. Because the Inn at San Pancho sits on top of a hill overlooking the mountains and the Pacific Ocean, I can, with the exception of the bathroom, watch sunsets from every room in my small house. I watch them while I am reading and writing and peeling potatoes or floating in the pool or sitting on the beach. They are woven into my life and when I go north for the summer I miss them almost as much as I miss my friends and my cat.
Sunsets are like snowflakes and fingerprints – each one unique in its own one-time-only way. Some are quite ordinary, others biblical. Not every sunset is a Tarantino. There are sunsets when the sun is significantly larger than usual and you might almost believe something is seriously wrong with the universe. On other occasions the sun simply sets, no big deal. On those evenings, if you are not in the business of collecting them, you might skip the whole show and watch the news or make a salad for dinner.
And then there is The Green Flash phenomenon which I passionately pursued in every end-of-the-dock bar from St. Martins to Key West. But it was not until I moved to Mexico that I finally had my first Green Flash moment.
“Green Flash this evening,” my neighbor said in the middle of a conversation about the more than 400 varieties of palm trees I could choose from when I was ready to start landscaping. We were on the veranda at the time and the sun was free falling, picking up speed as it neared the surface of the sea splayed out before us.
“Really? How can you tell?”
“I’ve watched so many of them I pretty much know when it’s going to happen.”
“My God, I’m going to see The Green Flash.”
“Yes, I am pretty sure you are. They happen all the time down here. Watch, there it goes…”
The sun was a robust orange, rowdy and full of fire, as it slid into the Pacific. There was not a cloud in the sky.
”Yes! There!” he shouted. “Did you see it?”
“I saw something, like a green pulse and then it was gone. I must have looked away for an instant.”
“No…no….that was it.”
“That was The Green Flash.”
He nodded. “Yup.”
“Tell me it’s not always like that. Tell me this was a below average Green Flash.”
“No, that’s mas o menos how it always is.”
For all people who have yet to see a Green Flash, who are actually standing on beaches and mountaintops around the world, waiting to see it, you are wasting your time. The Green Flash is not a flash, nor is it a streak of green lightening shattering the sky. It is so nothing that it is difficult to describe. It is perhaps the color of a half ripened lime and visible for a microsecond. That is it. This is the truth.
Like the man who counts sunsets, the man who puts a notch on his Ray Bans every time he witnesses a green flash is not so much watching as he collecting.
When I came to Mexico it was difficult not to pick every beautiful flower I saw. If it was yellow I saw it in the kitchen, a spray of red bougainvillea in the living room, a lily for the bedroom. There was such an abundance of flowers – all so exotic. I wanted them in my house, in my garden. But there are only so many vases, so many square meters of soil in which to plant.
I moved into the Inn at San Pancho, and each night as I watched the sunset I reminded myself that whatever had gone wrong during the day – and something always went wrong – it paled in comparison to the rage of orange and pink and red swirling across the horizon. Each night I took a photo of the sunset, capturing it as I had earlier plucked the flowers. I did not want either to slip through my fingers as I believed so much else in my life already had.
I cannot pinpoint when I stopped collecting flowers and sunsets as if my world was going to run out of them. I only became aware of not having done so for a long time a couple of years ago when I was with a group of friends from the states eating burritos at my favorite beach restaurant, La Playa. I was watching what was turning into a spectacular sunset and about to announce the possibility of there being a green flash, when the woman next to me tapped me on the arm.
“Look, look at this,” she said, holding the screen of her IPhone up. The sun was doing stuff with the clouds and the whole horizon was changing colors from one moment to the next but I turned to look at the camera anyway. It was a very good photo of exactly what was going on the second before I turned away from reality to look at the image. She had caught the sunset perfectly, right down to the salmon colored sea. “Great shot,” I said and turned my face back toward the sunset just in time to see a tiny green spark disappearing beneath the sea.
Life is contrary and unexpected. The chances of anyone managing to catch every sunset are relatively thin. One would have to set their minds to it, as you would to any challenge. One would have to rush home from Costco or a friend’s house, leave the pots simmering on the stove, the laundry to wrinkle in the dryer, the phone to go unanswered. One would have to tell the plumber he could come back tomorrow to fix the leak, and the cats could wait to be fed, the dog to be walked because THE SUN WAS SETTING AND THERE COULD BE A GREEN FLASH! For some of us that is simply too big of a commitment.
Sunsets are not collectibles …they are not coins or stamps and you cannot hang them on your walls or keep them in a safe deposit box. They are the gift which reminds us on a daily basis that we are part of something too vast to contemplate.
10 Tips On How To Watch A Sunset
- Don’t get there too early. Arriving 15 to 20 minutes before the show is time enough.
- Wear sunglasses
- Bring insect repellent – you are not the only sentient being waiting for the sun to go down
- Watch it alone
- Watch it with friends
- Don’t brag about the sunset; it is not yours just because you watched it
- Bring a camera but limit yourself to how many photos you are willing to take; otherwise you will miss the real sunset
- Do not expect to see a Green Flash – you are liable to be disappointed even if you do see one.
- Send up a prayer, a hope, a message, a thank you
- When there are clouds in the sky, the sunset might only be a preview of the show to come. Be patient. Don’t leave before the miracle.