Photographers have a term for the time of day just before the sun cracks itself open on the horizon like an egg: the blue hour or magic hour. Truthfully, this usually boils down to about 20-30 minutes, but “magic half-hour” doesn’t have the same ring to it and “20-minute magic” sounds like a depressing sexual enhancement product.
The science behind this phenomenon involves the way the sun’s different wavelengths are dispersed through the earth’s atmosphere at this time of day. Tucked just under the horizon, the sun’s bluer rays are both shorter and more prominent than the longer, red-hued rays. There was more science on the sites I visited to read about this, but at the first brush with things like “solar elevation graphs” and phrases such as “particles in suspension,” my ability to process anything beyond a ninth grade understanding of the natural world plummeted. More importantly, nothing I read talked about the in-in between span that occurs as the blue leeches out of the sky and becomes washed in blush and rose-colored pinks like spilled wine.
I’m lucky enough to surf this sliver of time in the morning as I drive the 20-minute commute from my house to the gym. Except, as I notice the colors of the sky begin to shift, it starts to feel less like a sleepy, lazy drive alongside other early risers and more like a race. I know it’s only a precious handful of minutes that the sky will hold these colors. It’s like that brief freefall in sleep that comes just before waking, the suspended animation before lips touch. Thirty seconds at a stoplight and the sun’s rays have inched themselves closer to flooding the sky with buttery light, edging out the other colors.
The complex that houses my gym skirts a river, which serves up such beautiful views of the sun rippling on the water or the dark trees bowed with snow over the icy river that I find myself making a pit stop at least a few times a week to take some photos before I head into the gym. But on the mornings where the light teases the sky, my hustle from the parking lot to the bike path next to the river is never fast enough. By the time I get to a break in the tree line where I can see a large enough expanse of sky to take a few shots, the sun is already ruining everything with her stupid, awesome brilliance. I’m deflated and think dumbly, it happened without me.
It’s profoundly narcissistic, not to mention egregiously moronic to think that we are the center of anything, yet here we are pushing around molecules to engineer bigger peaches and wiring consciousness into titanium bodies so that humans will no longer have to fight fires or wars. I can’t pause the sun—she’s not an app. Instead, I can let go of the chase and when I do, I can hear the Universe laughing.
She knows we can’t have it both ways. We can’t be fully in the experience and fully representing the experience. You sacrifice a portion of each by the laws of physics alone (also way outside my ninth grade science education) and also because, just, nope, no, uh-huh tiny, hilariously flawed human. We’ve become comfortable with believing we can have “this and that,” the “or” getting quietly phased out like telephone booths and American democracy, which is both an illusion and a pointless attempt to out maneuver having to decide. We forget how liberating it can be in some situations when the decision, the choice is made for you to step into the now. And when we’re reminded—that’s a magic hour.