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.

More Magic

 

Campuhan Ridge Walk in Ubud, Bali

7 million years ago, African Apes are branching into four different groups: Gorillas, Chimps, Bonobos and Humans.

4 million years ago humans are walking upright like a bunch of silly wankers.

1 or 2 million years ago Homo Erectus is found in SE Asia. The “Java Man” has literally walked out of Africa and into Europe and Asia. Holy shit! And I call myself an explorer when I fly to Paris, book a hotel, and ride the elevator up the Eiffel Tower.

200,000 years ago these Homo Erectus guys are starting to look like me. If one of those guys got a haircut and put a jacket on, they’d be able to watch Star Wars at the cinema today without causing too much trouble.

50,000 years ago, give or take, you have the sudden “Great Leap Forward.” People go from using crude stone tools to painting in caves and sewing with bird-bone needles. By 13,000 years ago we’ve populated all of the main continents except for Antarctica.

How weird that we were the ones to populate the world, and not the Apes or the Chimps or the Bonobos who all, at one time, crouched at the same exact starting line and waited for the same exact whistle to blow.

One of my favorite explanations for how humans covered the globe comes from E.O. Wilson’s book: Social Conquest of Earth. For the all the concepts that flew over my head, the one that stuck with me was “Eusociality.” It’s a biological term for a species that has an advanced social system. Ants are the poster boys for an Eusocial society. They divide labor, cooperate, store away food, look after the young. Like us, Ants have successfully spread to all the earth’s continents. (Except Anartica but who cares.)

At some point humans stopped being solo hunters and we started sitting around the fire. Some of us cooked while others hunted and others set up camp. Women were able to have more than one child, and children had more than two parents. The fire was synonymous with home; we’d leave for a time, but we’d always return to the fire. We laid awake looking at the stars. Nobody told us what was out there, what flew around up there in the cosmos, so we invented our own mythologies and passed them around the fire. The stars were brighter, the nights were longer, and there was a lot more magic back then.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” -Stephen King: Thursday, May 7th

Charles Darwin toiled for decades to research and compile his great work,  “The Origin of Species.” It was his life’s work.

I can read “The Origin of Species” in a week or two. Now I know just as much as Charles Darwin knows about pigeons and selective breeding and natural selection.

It doesn’t seem fair. Darwin was hard-fought to come by all of that knowledge. He paid dearly for that knowledge with the only currency that matters – hours.

The poet Gary Snyder said that, “In Western Civilization, our elders are our books.”

Everyone is a reader. People who say they aren’t readers haven’t been found by the right book yet. Or maybe those people don’t like to eat books. Maybe they like to eat movies, radio shows, podcasts, or conversations with friends.

Because of course books, the physical things, are just vehicles. The Ideas and the Stories are the heart, the real nourishment, the real magic. (Ideas and Stories are savvy businessmen. They don’t care how they get moved around, as long as they’re being shared one way or another.)

It hurts my brain to think of how much value I’ve ingested through books, through people like Tolstoy and Da Vinci and John Green and a million others. By producing their works, artists give unique gifts to the universe.

I hope I can be a giver too and not just a taker.

But this impulse of mine is not about repayment. I don’t feel guilty or that I’m required to pay a debt. That would be a shitty feeling.

It’s more like… there’s a party going on. This party is filled with artists who are charging into their fears, sweating, grinning, loving, and releasing their one-of-a-kind butterflies into the wild. I want to join that party. For almost thirty years I’ve waited for an invitation to that party, but it never came, so now I’m inviting myself.