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The slow sweet summer sunset

Esther Poulsen
Esther Poulsen

On a recent summer evening, my husband and I were sitting at my friend Jeff’s house near Nolan’s Point, watching the sun slide slowly into the hills west of Lake Hopatcong. Sipping a strawberry daiquiri and swapping stories as friends often do, we relaxed in the last rays of sunshine.

I truly believe our area is considered the Skylands not just because of its perch at the top of New Jersey, but also because of the spectacular views of sunrises and sunsets that are beheld every single day.

It’s one of the grandest reasons to live in our region.

The wonders of day’s end were not always something I could enjoy. Growing up in the heart of South Philadelphia, our sun on the best of days seemed a distant and disinterested observer to the bustle of life among the row houses I called home. In the city, sunshine only peeks over the rooftops long after the day has begun. Even when swinging high across the sky, the sun is veiled in a soft gray haze drifting up from the refineries nearby. Its mighty power is not experienced in light, but in heat, shimmering the asphalt and concrete like fever dreams.

On summer nights, long after sinking behind the buildings to the west, I’d sit with my parents and sister on our stoop, seeking respite from the day’s heat as it rose from a day trapped in concrete, brick and steel. Surrounded by city, I never learned to appreciate the sun’s spectacle as it dances on the edges of day.

But now, I’ve been fortunate to spend 20 years here, and to behold sunsets on Lake Hopatcong is truly transformative indeed. This particular summer has been a daily feast of light and shadow that has been truly memorable. I’ve traced rainbows across Brights Cove and am convinced the “pot of gold” is to be had somewhere around Mason Street Pub. Sunbows, too, were common this year, and my husband and I spent several evenings spotting a prismatic streak in the mist high above, then seeking its twin on the other side of the sun.

I must admit we had more success finding sunbows than anacondas, but hunting snakes in murky waters is for braver souls—I’ll stick to searching for prisms in the sky.

On some days the ever-changing riot of pink and purple clouds seemed so far away they could have come from another world. But best of all were the rare, cloudless sunsets, where the sky seemed less a sky then a perfect polished pearl, impossible to discern where white sunlight melted into blazing orange, then endless blue, and finally, the infinite depths of twilight.

Though I know that June 21 marks the longest day of the year, it always feels to me that the days and weeks after solstice have sunsets that linger higher and longer than those of late spring. We would sit on a dock or porch or boat and watch the sun for what felt like a whole other day, as it made a slow and majestic descent into the far hills of the western shore.

The sun in winter makes no such leisurely trip—when not shrouded in snow clouds, the best it offers is a wan wave from the south before hastily retreating to lower latitudes.

But how the late days of summer bring out the best in our sun! It joins our afternoon and evening gatherings like a favored friend, casting rays of warmth on our shoulders as we end the day’s labors and leisures. And often, just before dipping into the west, it will fling its beams through the clouds in a last embrace, as if to say, “Good night, my dear children of earth, I leave you in the bosom of night and shall rise to greet you in the morning.”

And we, its children, offer the sun one last goodbye as dusk melts away, and we return home under the watchful eye of the moon and the twinkling lights of distant suns.

One Response

  1. Mark McNabb
    Mark McNabb at |

    Wonderful, colorful story with the spirit and innocences of youth guided by the skill of an experienced writer.


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