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  • Monday, September 9, 2013

    Photography: The Sunset and Half Dome

    Half Dome, Yosemite National Park
    I took this photo in 2010, from the top of North Dome on the northeastern wall of Yosemite Valley.

    THE STORY BEHIND THE PHOTO...

    Nearly three years ago today, the sun sank below the horizon. A momentous event. I figure it happened about ten thousand times since I became conscious, but ordinary events often turn momentous after a really long walk.

    It has a similar effect on sitting in the dirt with my back against a log, with nothing better to do but watch a sunset. As the sun dropped, the sky above Yosemite blushed and on the other side of the valley, a shadow crept up Half Dome. I grabbed my camera and climbed to the top of North Dome for a better view.

    Standing alone on the summit, I looked into the valley almost 4,000 feet below. Drivers heading down a serpentine highway began to turn on headlights, but the bustle was silent from high above. Actually, the lack of sound was peculiar. Not a whisper of leaves or a cricket’s chirp.

    I continued to watch the shadow rise on Half Dome until only a bright sunny cap remained. Then that too was gone. I felt perfectly happy and content, and I never wanted it to end.

    It wouldn’t have to if I could travel around the globe fast enough. I could chase an everlasting sunset. That sounded nice, until the sun completely vanished and the massive granite cliffs turned dusky purple and the stars came out.

    I laid on my back with fingers intertwined behind my head. Not even a wisp of cloud shrouded the brilliance of the moon and starlight. It was the time of my life, and I never wanted it to end.

    The cold hard granite became less comfortable with time. Then thoughts of a warm crackling campfire helped get me to my feet. But, there was Half Dome again, so beautiful under the azure glow of a half moon.  I knew as soon as I walked down to camp, the night would be over. In that fleeting moment, I wanted to memorize every mountain slope lit by moonlight, every tree forming the saw-toothed edge of the horizon, and the position of every star that hung so radiant above a view that stretched for miles.

    “Alright, I’ll just stay a little bit longer,” I thought and laid back on the ground. I needed to feel that moment of closure, when I could call it a night and feel confident that I didn’t waste any of it. Consequently, that bit longer turned into another hour.

    In that deep silence under the stars, my eyes wanted to sleep, but I kept jolting them awake. Then unexpectedly, exactly where my eyes were focused, a meteor shot across the sky.  Its bright fiery tail lasted for a few seconds then faded away.  I grinned. There was my moment. I had my closure.

    As silly as it sounds now, I made a wish. I wished that nothing had to change.

    I stood up and leaned with both hands on a trekking pole. I panned around in a complete circle to see it all one last time, and then headed back to camp.

    Soon after, I’d make the decision to leave my job and walk away from everything I had, except what I could sling over my shoulders. That was three years ago. I’ve done a lot since then. I've watched countless sunsets. How crazy it seems now, that I never wanted this one to end.

    I still struggle with changes and endings, but this lifestyle has taught me that rather than chase an everlasting sunset, I should just enjoy every experience while it lasts, and then wait for the next one.

    Ten thousand sunsets had to come and go before I learned this lesson. Luckily, the best things in life are patient.

    Creative Commons License