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Sonorous songs of praise for the setting sun


A woman named Nittanya says she and her sister used to play a little game during the summer. They'd ride their bikes at dusk and take turns naming the painter whose style was reflected in the sunset. "We saw a Renoir that first night," Nittanya recalls. "Over the years I've noticed that the Impressionists get the call most often. Renoir is up frequently. Sometimes you'll see a Monet. Never, alas, a Van Gogh." Perhaps Van Gogh, like the stars, would come later, after girls on bikes had gone home.

Girls on bikes. Dusks and sunsets. Impressions.

A few weeks ago, readers were asked to describe specific moments of twilight that became etched in their hearts and minds. Several were inspired. Some recalled single, stunning sunsets. Others remembered the regular descent of the sun in a specific place, from a specific time in their lives. I believe I've stumbled into a fine gallery of "memoryscapes:"

C. F. Smith, Baltimore

My first apartment, outside the U.S. Air Force, was in New Jersey, in an old apartment building on John F. Kennedy Boulevard between Bayonne and Jersey City, fifth or sixth floor. Had a great view of some river or bay. On clear days, the blue sky slid into bands of orange and red, then black, at the horizon. Set off against the glow as evening came were planes and helicopters coming and going at Newark Airport. I particularly remember the bug-like copters that seemed always to follow the same route. I imagined a galactic kid standing somewhere to the east, LaGuardia maybe, slinging his whirlybird toys down a wire for fun. They always made it to the ground without incident. A hypnotic vision, a vision to conjure all sorts of futures. And then, of course, it was night.

Sharon Britton, Timonium

Your request revived a 40-year-old memory, all the way back to college and a leisurely stroll with my boyfriend through the campus at dusk. The sunset had every intense, warm color of the palette as it hung behind the bell tower of the old Methodist church. The bell rang. We looked up and saw hundreds of small birds silhouetted against the sky. They were circling the tower, loudly and frantically, like a giant black whirlpool. We sat down to watch. Gradually the circle of birds became smaller and smaller, and we realized that the birds were going, one by one, into the tower to roost. How could we have lived on campus for four years without ever seeing this evening ritual? By the time the last bird was gone the sky turned to blue and the campus was again quiet, ready for night. I'm told the birds still roost in the old tower. And my boyfriend is still my husband.

Victoria Kadan, Frederick

When I was a little girl I lived on Wilkens Avenue in Baltimore with my mother. We lived at the west end. My baby sitter lived at the east end. My mom would pick me up from a long day's work and hold my hand and walk that short distance up the street. On warm summer evenings I would reach the top step of our home and look west. Always, I would be stunned and excited by the big orange ball of sun hanging right behind the steeple of St. Benedict's Church. It would mean the end of another day of playing outside, watching the traffic, waving to drivers, wondering where the buses were going. . . . I am no longer a little girl, no longer live in Baltimore and my mom passed away in February. Now my boys and I wait for Daddy while watching the sunset over Braddock Mountain.

Ann Krausz, Dundalk

My mother and father, William and Melba Hemlet, had a shore home on the eastern side of Back River. The sunsets on the water were always beautiful. My dad and mom would sit together on a lounge chair, and my dad would say contentedly, "There is nothing more that a man could want than having the woman he loves by his side, a bottle of beer in his hand and a beautiful sunset." My mother would smile and not say a word.

Raimon Cary, Catonsville

I was a student at Lycoming College, in central Pennsylvania, about umpteen years ago in 1970. We were stuck in my roommate's family's Pine Creek cabin during a midsummer rainstorm, and we'd had our fill of it. . . . We decided to hop in a Jeep and head up to an abandoned fire tower on top of a mountain and have a look. The storm was starting to head eastward, but down in the creek valleys the sun had already set and it was still dark from the passing cloud. We slogged through the mud up to the steel tower about a half-hour before the sunset. The back edge of the clouds cut a swath right overhead, allowing the sun to splash the tops of the trees and the tower poking above our heads. We clambered up the rickety stairs and parked ourselves just under the boarded-up platform on top. The sun was right at our eye level just above a succession of folded mountain ridges that looked like someone had kicked a rug into a corner. The faraway valleys revealed the scattered twinkling lights of farmhouses where someone was probably finishing up the supper dishes, oblivious to what was left of light up on the mountain. The wind's constant force in our faces while the clouds scudded away made me feel like the pilot of a ship streaking west at about 60 miles an hour. We silently watched for the half-hour it took the sun to change from gold to salmon before it fell from sight. We didn't say much at all on the trip back down to Pine Creek. It was the end of our trip. We both knew what we'd seen.

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