Dawn and Dusk

Few things are impossible, but describing a sunset is one of them. It’s like trying to take a selfie with a skyscraper or recreate a Beatles song using only a rock and a stick. You might as well teach a tiger to play checkers. You might as well give up before you start.

What would you say to somebody who had never seen the sun set over the ocean? “Well there were lots of yellows, and then the yellows turned to oranges, and then…”

Some people don’t know this, but our Earth is connected to a parallel universe of magic. We are only connected to this magical universe twice a day – ever day at Dusk and Dawn – during these two times we swing just close enough to this magical universe that a tiny bit of it bleeds through.

The change that takes place during sunset (or sunrise) is blatantly subtle. You know some wacky magic is happening right in front of your eyes, but it’s faster than a hummingbird and gone before you even grab. You can’t freeze it. To take a picture of a sunset is like drawing a rainbow with only one crayon. This is because a sunset dances, not walks, across the red carpet of time. A sunset moves as slowly and surely as your fingernails grow. It moves at the speed of a blooming rose, a climbing vine, a ripening fruit. It moves at the rate that a child grows. You know it’s happening, but you can’t pinpoint exactly where.

Another big problem is, in order to describe an ocean sunset you’d have to somehow re-create wind through the viewers hair. A chilly wind but slightly warm. A wind that isn’t cold but is somehow getting colder. A sunset is not all about color, it’s not all about light, it’s also the air density, the twist of the wind, the blue blanket of night being draped across the bedtime sky.

Sunsets just wouldn’t be romantic if they made sense from all angles. The day belongs to science, and the night belongs to rest, these things are well understood. But the dusk and the dawn, those are something else entirely. Something that reminds us of the truths we knew before we got born.

A Visit to the Cloud Forest: Monday, August 31st

We started in the construction zone of a Korean apartment complex, and we ended up at the bottom of a lake filled with pulsing colors and friendly sea creatures.

***

My wife April and I walked through a newly developed part of the city. We walked downn the sandy, half-paved roads, looking up at the young shining towers. Five or Six towers were spaced evenly apart from one another in the lot. They were all similar designs, and each one was beautiful, a modern marvel of steel and glass reaching up into the clouds. They were too tall to see the tops, in the same way that the ocean is too wide to see the other side.

Bulldozers and cranes and men wearing hardhats were all busy at their work. It was a weekday morning. April and I were the only visitors – the only non-workers – but nobody seemed to mind. In fact they smiled and asked no questions.

One of the towers had especially fascinating windows so we went inside. Everything was bare concrete, fresh drywall, clean plastic, all covered in a thin layer of dust. Only the most basic wiring had been prepped in the walls. We stood inside and looked out at the world through clever modern mirrors that somehow swung open from all four sides.

Then we began to climb the stairs. No one seemed to mind. The impossible long steel arms of orange cranes swiveled on their pivots outside. Workers passed us on the stairs. At one point there was a scary gap in the unfinished staircase, where a miss-step could easily have lead to a long fall. I went first over the gap, and then I helped April up. We hugged the far wall, staying as far away from the edge as possible.

We wound up and up, like Jack climbing the Beanstalk. Outise the windows, all we could see was the white mist of passing clouds.

The staircase ended unceremoniously with a plain, grey door. We were now on the top floor of the tower. We pushed through the door and came out onto the rooftop balcony. The rooftop spanned off in every direction. It might as well have been a new ground, a new earth. It was much more organic and lively than the steel and glass interior of the building that we had seen so far.

In fact I know realized that were in the top canopies of a very old forest. The concrete floor of the roof was intertwined with seasoned log beams. And now I could see green, leafy limbs poking through the clouds here and there.

Two men were leaning on a wooden fence and talking. April and I walked over to them. The guy with the mustache turned out to the be the head construction manager. And the other man was the owner of the adjacent tower. They were talking casually about the fence line, the surroundings, and the age of the structures, as any neighbors might do. The head construction man was friendly and he offered to show April and I around.

As we walked, our surroundings became more and more forest, less and less building. We saw that the whole construction project was a sort of rebuild, that it was more a treehouse than a concrete tower. We could even see how the structure began to twist like a tree in it’s upper reaches.

We went on into the cloud forest. It was dusk, and a mysterious mist hovered over the forest floor. The sky was closed off now, with trees overhead on all sides. We came to a peaceful lake in the middle of the forest. On the far side of the lake a family was playing. Two little girls ran along the shore laughing. I could see their colofrul reflections in the water as they ran. I tried taking pictures, but somehow I was always too slow. Whenever I took a picture, the girls had run just out of the frame. The picture could only capture their reflections, which lagged a bit behind the girls themselves.

Me and April and the Construction Manager stood quietly. The family across the lake talked and played easily, as if their surroundings – the cloud forest and the lake in the sky – were as normal as could be.

One of the little girls, the one in the sky-blue dress, tripped and fell plop into the water. That’s how we all ended up at the bottom of the lake. Now I remember.

But there was no panic really. We all reacted as if the natural thing to do was, not to save her, but to be with her. So me and April and the Construction Manager jumped in, and the family on the other side did the same – the parents and the sister and also some cousins and an aunt/uncle pair.

Now I’m standing at the bottom of the lake, and what shocks me is how clear the water is. It’s almost as if there is no water. I can see clear through to every side and every corner of the lake. But we’re surely underwater, because of the way we move, and the way everything is pulsing and flowing. But we can only feel the water, not see it.

A fiery orange squid drifts by, not more than an arm’s length from my face. Grey monster manatee creatures are laying around in groups of twos or threes. Huge wavy forests of kelp ripple up from the bottom. And in-between these kelp strands, little glowing fish dart in an out. It occurs to me that the little colorful fish are just like tropical jungle birds, flitting around the rainforest canopy. Sea anemones the size of people undulate their spongy heads. Everything surges and throbs, pulls and pulses and returns.

Suddenly a black wildcat comes lurching awkwardly through the water, as if he’s forgotten that he doesn’t belong here. Immediately he becomes entangled with one of the fiery orange squids. They twist and crash and lock up together in combat. I’m nudging April and telling her, “watch this.”

Meanwhile the little girl in the sky-blue dress is fine. She’s floating around as if she meant to be here all along, and her brown pigtails are spinning slowly behind her like helicopter rotors.

I’m scared of all this strangeness under the sea. But I’m calm and happy in a way that you can only be when you’re underwater. I know that we’re all going to be fine, April and me and Mr. Bob the Builder, and the family who’s out for a picnic at the lake. Even the wildcat and the squid are going to be OK.

I hear there’s a finicky demon watching over the shore of the lake. He’s gotten out of hand lately, and is acting more like a child than a protector and keeper of the natural world.

Perhaps we’ll have to pay him a visit… try and talk some sense into the guy.

Dusk and Fantasy: Tuesday, June 9th.

No time of day is as magical as dusk. And in big cities like mine, the dusk is particularly dramatic. The streetlamps flicker on, one by one, coming alive in a chain reaction of little golden orbs. Cars disappear and only their headlights remain. Apartment buildings light up like christmas trees.

The earth is turning her back to the sun, or her face to the stars, depending on who you’re asking.

I don’t know. My head is in the clouds this week.

Probably because I’m reading three fantasy novels at one time. Trying to take in these influences and write some of my own fantasy.

I have incredible respect for fantasy writers. It’s hard enough for little old me to describe my own world, let alone an entirely new one. From Tolkien’s Middle Earth to Lucas’ Galactic Empire to J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts Castle – what would our world be without these brilliantly crafted neighboring worlds?

Fantasy worlds are the real golden center of fiction writing. They represent the full potential of human imagination. Surely, of all the genres, fantasy contains the most limitless possibilities. Everything is up for grabs; not just the characters but also the place, the time, the galaxy, the laws of physics themselves.

Although, in the end, all good fiction is rooted in real characters with real emotions. Whether it’s monsters, talking rabbits, or elves – we’re only interested in these characters insomuch as they display human-like strengths and foibles.

Spock is a human. Frodo is a human. Harry Potter is a human. They bleed and cry and laugh and make rash decisions.

But fantasy worlds have a way of holding up a mirror to our own. A way that has quite a different effect than just reading about people in our known universe. How do you get to a fantasy world? You have to travel there. And you can’t travel without getting your perspective changed.

To bring it all home, dusk is magical because it’s in-between. It isn’t quite day and it isn’t quite night. I’m thankful for fiction writers who have the bravery to create these new worlds. World that aren’t quite mine, but are still similar, but are somewhere in-between. They’re magical in all the best senses of the word.