Summer of the super sunsets

Riffing on the idea that happiness and a joyful state of being is a choice, Star Tribune business columnist and apparent Zen master Harvey Mackay recently concluded, “So now that you know what finding your bliss could do for your quality of life, why wait? Organize your life so you have time to do the things you love.

“I am not advocating you abandon all responsibility. Life’s pressures are going to prevent you from playing golf seven days a week and even sunsets start to look alike after a while. However, the more attuned you are to what truly makes you happy, the more your life will align itself with the things you value and treasure.”

Wise words from the power-of-positive-thinking-swim-with-the-sharks guru, though I’m here to disagree with his take on sunsets, which I got and remain deeply attuned to this historically glorious Minnesota spring and summer; the most sun-dappled in a decade, according to the experts. 

By a conservative estimate, I’ve borne witness to roughly 65 of the most magnificent and memorable sunsets of my life this year, most at lakes Harriet and Isles and every one different — due to the mindset I brought to each (meditative, grateful, contemplative, quiet) and the ever-changing mix of the elements (water surface, cloud cover, wind, rain, etc.) on the canvas itself.

The truth is, I made time for them. Hustled down to the lake to catch just slivers of them some evenings and lingered longer for some more than others, but all provided the same focal point of healing and being. That a sunset is a spectacularly beautiful gift to all of us is hardly breaking news (especially to the many fellow sol-gawkers I saw partaking over the past few months), but because they too often get taken for granted or obliterated by the competition (cell phones, HD, life), it says here that celebrating the primal pull of sunsets is an act of faith and subversion.

By early June, my body clock was responding to the daily walk toward the light. It called to me: The end of the day and the break of night came in a feast of oranges, reds, yellows, pinks and purples, followed by an often ominous fade to black. These days, amidst the encroaching gnats and buzzing crickets, the sun goes down at 7:30 p.m., with a slow descent that feels languid compared to July’s 9 p.m. plummets into darkness, not to mention December’s looming 4:30 p.m. blackouts.

Most of my sweet 65 I saw with my dog, who routinely took my lead, settled down and basked. Most were viewed in front of a body of water — per the instructions of all the ancient meditation masters — and a few were witnessed with other people. Strangers, mostly.

There was the toddler mesmerized by the sheer awesomeness of the visceral blast happening in front of him, the medicinal magic of which remained oblivious to his harried, preoccupied mom. There was the gobsmacked Japanese family who couldn’t take enough photos of the simmering horizon and the Harmon Killebrew look-alike perched nightly at South Beach, staring stoically. There were the painters, working hard with their oils and easels to capture shades of glory and shards of light for all time. 

There was the 60-something woman wearing a teal-colored T-shirt that is given to ovarian cancer survivors who participate in “Silent No More,” the walk/run sponsored by the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance.

When I came upon her, she was lost in a thousand-yard stare at one of my favorite spots, a concrete deck with a railing near the shoreline off the Rose Gardens.

We took our place at the rail, the dog and I. I grabbed the hot fence and did some yoga stretches. The sun was blazing and going down fast. Shhh…

“It’s a good one tonight,” I said, finally. The woman perked up and agreed enthusiastically. We murmured about the suddenly green hues reflecting off the lake and about our favorite sunsets of yore. Then we clammed up again.

After about 15 minutes, with the sun dipped halfway into the lake and looking like a pumpkin cookie in a glass of red wine, I got up to leave. 

“Cheers,” I said, popping out onto the walking path. “More to come.”

The sunset silhouetted her and blinded her face from me, but even so I could see her brilliant smile. 

“Yes, yes,” she said. “Many more.”

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.