On November 18, 2020

United in the brilliance of a winter sunset

By Merisa Sherman

We pulled into an empty parking lot and raced down to the water, amazed that we are even still paddling this late in November. The BF unstrapped the canoe in record time while I grabbed our dry bags and paddles from the back seat. We could see the sky begin to hint at the future and we knew we were running out of time. I don’t think we’ve ever unloaded our gear quite so quickly, but we were on a mission.

Instead of hugging the shore and taking in all the minute variations like we usually do, this time we paddled straight to our favorite viewing spot. As we floated over the flat water, it felt heavy against our wooden paddles like a swelteringly hot day in July. The weight of the sky appeared to press down on the water, causing the molecules to compress tighter against each other. It was almost as if the density of the water had thickened and we marveled at the power of nature as we pulled our blades through to the finish of the stroke.

But we weren’t here to paddle. We were here for the light show.

As the days get shorter, the sky starts doing something crazy that just absolutely blows my mind. How can the sun set all year long, but only have these crisp, vibrant sunset with such deep colors as we approach the Winter Solstice? As the sun dips behind the leafless trees, the colors slowly begin to creep from blue to the orange of a creepy Halloween eve to the fiery reds of winter to finally the deep purple before the stars begin to pop out of the darkness. If there are clouds, they bring out even more vibrancy and textures galore until you almost want to put your sunglasses back on.

We couldn’t move. We just sat, stunned into silence, as the colors danced across the sky. For a few minutes, all the anxiety of the world was no longer important. All that existed was our heads, rotating in all different directions in an attempt to soak up every last bit of sunset surrounding us. And from the middle of the lake, it was as if the sky surrounded us. You could feel the rounding of the earth and the sky embracing us like a blanket. We were warm, relaxed and comforted in our knowledge that we are just small beings on a great planet. Is it possible to feel insignificant and filled with all the power of nature at the same time?

Slowly, the colors crept away and reveal the bluish-purplish of the night. One by one, the clouds disintegrated to reveal the stars hidden behind. We continued to sit as the planetarium fills above our heads. The colorful blanket of clouds was pulled away and the stadium dome opened to reveal the universe. The stars reflected on the dark waters of the lake and we were no longer floating on water, but through the universe itself. We were more than just a simple planet, but an entire galaxy of planets. I felt as though our world was opening itself, revealing a greater truth than simply our sun and our sunsets. Somehow, floating in our canoe with the stars above and below us, we are everything and nothing all at once.

My descriptions cannot possibly do justice to the overwhelming beauty of these pre-Solstice sunsets and the subsequent starry nights. And I know I don’t have to, because my newsfeed this past week has been filled with photos from so many friends and acquaintances around Vermont who were stunned into awe themselves. Whether you were driving home from work, sitting on your front porch with a glass of wine or floating in the middle of a lake, we all still took a moment to watch the sunset and enjoy nature. It amazes me that even though we are all in our homes, separated by these unprecedented times, we have all still found a way to be together. If only for a few moments a night, as the sun creeps behind the mountains and the sky is filled with the light show only nature can provide — we are united.

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