Sometimes I’ve seen a photo of a beautiful place, or read about some locale which seems fine and attractive in this or that respect. And I’ve wondered what it would be like to live there. But then usually the first question which rises in my mind, sometimes even to my lips, is an alarmed: ‘But can they see the sun rising from behind the mountains there?’ Because for me, I’ve come to realize only quite recently, the sun is definitely something which emerges from the sea someplace thousands of miles away, pours itself out upon thousands of miles of prairies and deserts, then pops up over the Sierra Nevada or California Coast Ranges so I can see it. I seem incapable of thinking of the sun in any other way.
There are reasons for this that have to do with my own history, of course. I’ve spent most of my life in places where the sun has done just that. As a child I daily watched it soar up over the 14,000 ft. peaks of the Sierra Nevada and flood the orange groves and cotton fields among which our home in California’s great Central Valley was set. As a very young adult, living in Palm Springs, I watched, with a kind of ecstasy of delight in the reassuring warmth and floral scents of the desert dawn, the sun emerge with almost frightening brilliance out the arid Sonoran mountains which separated us from Arizona, and flood our little enclave with light so hot you could almost cook your breakfast in it. Still later, as for the past dozen years, I have lived along the California coast and beheld the sun, when not impeded by the fog and clouds so frequent here, accomplish its morning ascent from behind mountains, to free itself at last into the sky.
This is the best part: from the point when the blackness of night only just begins to give way to the beginning of day, to the actual sunrise itself. Once the sun becomes visible I start to lose interest. I don’t know why this is.
When I think about it, I realize that I don’t conceive of the sunlight as something which reaches us directly from the sun itself, but rather as something which has first passed over the entire continent to get to us. Mentally, at least, I have invested the sunlight I behold with a kind of power and charm which it has acquired during its rapid and intense passage over prairie and desert. And particularly the latter. As if, just before becoming visible to me, it has lingered with such intensity over the brilliant arid wastes that it has assumed a kind of concentrated efficacy, even a mystical and curative force, which it would not have otherwise had. As if, on slipping suddenly over the mountains, it is splashing over the rim of some vast and golden bowl which can no longer contain its properties. It washes abruptly into my world in a way which leaves me breathless and re-anchored. Sunset, by contrast, is something I often find exquisite but unsettling. It disposes me to thoughtfulness and nostalgia. But it also makes me quite uneasy. Perhaps it is merely a vestige of millennia of ancestors who had to think seriously of nocturnal dangers which threatened, but I am really no friend of the night. Dawn is definitely my thing.
In the photo above, you see a moment before sunrise as viewed from the deck off our dining area on August 28, 2009. The high peak is Mt. Diablo. The sun, about to emerge, is a bit to the right, as you can see from the way the light hits the clouds.