Adventures from Back of Beyond

Friday, December 05, 2008

Liquid Fire

December, 2008.

Sunrises and sunsets are for me the two best times of day to experience natural beauty. Of the two, sunrises are my favorite. The air is usually very still and calm, the day is new, and after awakening from a refreshing night of sleep, a rejuvenated world of promise and hope lies ahead.

This time of year, with its short days and long nights, it's easy to experience sunrise. I try to watch as many as I can. Laying in bed, I can watch the direct line of sunlight creep down the opposite western mountains and determine with good accuracy what kind of sunrise we'll have.

If the line of light as it descends the mountains is sharp and distinct, the air is clear and it'll be easy to watch the disc of the sun rise over the eastern horizon. If it's indistinct the sun will be hard if not impossible to see, but we may have a good display of orange and red color in the clouds.

More often than not in Arizona, the line of sunlight creeping down the western mountains is incredibly sharp and distinct. That line is literally the shape of the far eastern horizon -- here, known as the Mogollon Rim. In winter, with sometimes days on end of single digit humidity -- I've seen get down to 1% -- the dry air is incredibly clear. And in the still, calm air of early morning, the atmosphere is practically dust-free. Severe clear.

During winter, while watching the eastern horizon, I track daily where the sun first emerges. From years of doing this, I know the exact final point on the far south of the rim where the sun finally reaches solstice, and begins it's return journey north.

Our house is designed to take advantage of the low winter sunlight for passive solar heating. Because the sun is so far south, even if it's sub-freezing outside I can stand in the heated comfort of our great room and look out of from a full length window and catch the entire scene.

We have a hanging light fixture over a table that catches the first sunlight through this window. The fixture in turn casts a shadow on the far wall of the room. The lamp has a small pendant hanging at the bottom, and this feature casts a distinct shadow, a sharp point of reference, almost like a ticking minute-hand on a watch. I know exactly the spot on the far wall where this pointer casts its shadow on the specific day of the winter solstice.

This morning I watched the sunrise under severe clear conditions. The sun, while still below the horizon, created an indistinct but bright yellow halo before it emerged. I watched closely for the very first glimpse of the actual disk. I want to view the blazing star itself, so I know the exact point on the horizon on which it rises.

Seeing this absolute first direct sunlight of the day is always special. I can only watch for a second or two, safely at least. First it's a tiny but brilliant point of yellow light...then more and more blazing light, like watching liquid fire spill out and over, engulfing the far rim of the horizon. Then it quickly becomes uncomfortably bright, too much light, and I must look away. I turn to catch the point on the far wall of the shadow cast from the light fixture.

Now, in early December, we're almost there. Just a few inches to go.