On a recent trip to Ibiza with my son and his girlfriend we went to some caves in a cliff by the sea whose claim to fame is that from the terraces which they have created and turned into bars (obviously!) you can order your tipple of choice and sit and gaze out to sea as the sun, by now a huge red ball, slips out of sight behind the horizon. People go there in droves and actually applaud this natural phenomenon which, of course, happens every evening, everywhere in the world. Naturally, you experience it differently according to your geographical position – think Norway ! think Africa ! But when you see people appreciate a sunrise or a sunset like this you can understand why so many cultures worshipped sun gods.
Details of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli, deity of war, sun and human sacrifice, are pretty gruesome. The story goes that, so as not to have any competition, he had to murder his many brothers and his one sister (by ripping her heart out) and to survive he needed human blood, those offered up for sacrifice being slaves and captives.
I prefer the Icarus myth myself! I wasn’t very keen on history at school, but I did enjoy our lessons about Greek mythology – for example, the one about Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and perished.
I wasn’t very interested in science either but I did like learning about the solar system – perhaps it was the 3D model we had at school that inspired me.
Scientific data about the Sun are mind- boggling and the time scale involved in the changes it has undergone are measured in billions of years – apparently, its diameter is 109 times that of the Earth, it will exit its main sequence in 5 billion years’ time and turn into a red giant; before the sun’s energy exhausts itself it will intensify and the Earth will become hotter than Venus – but as, like I say, all this is 5 billion years hence most of us cannot relate to it or see its relevance to our own existence.
So I’ll concentrate on the pure visual delight a sunset provides:
a great way to photograph a sunset is where you can see it reflected – in the car window or the roof(some great warping effects! I suppose it helps that my car is silver coloured) , or in water – the sea, lakes or fjords – or here in Herefordshire in the rivers – but having some trees in the image will provide interesting silhouettes, and clouds in another part of the sky absorb the pink glow of the sun and look like giant pieces of candy floss.
Of course, it’s frustrating to be bowling along a country lane, spy a great sunset across the horizon, look for somewhere to park, and eventually find a lay-by only to see that it’s surrounded by a 15 foot hedge! Sunsets are ephemeral things – one minute you see a spectacular, stretch of glowing sky – five minutes later that spectacular stretch of glowing sky has morphed into something else – sometimes better but often disappearing without trace!
Vocabulary of a sunset: ‘reflected’ ‘ glowing’ ‘mackerel’ ‘misty’ ‘pastel’ ‘incandescent’ ‘silhouettes’ ‘streaks’ ‘stripes’ ‘fireball’ ‘watercolour wash’ – all descriptions that come to mind with the different sunsets I see – and they can be very different – depending on atmospheric conditions like gathering storm clouds etc.
Here are a few of the magical sunsets I’ve seen just travelling home