Photography: The Sunset and Half Dome

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park
I took this photo in 2010, from the top of North Dome on the northeastern wall of Yosemite Valley.


Nearly three years ago today, the sun sank below the horizon. A momentous event. I figure it happened about ten thousand times since I became conscious, but ordinary events often turn momentous after a really long walk.

It has a similar effect on sitting in the dirt with my back against a log, with nothing better to do but watch a sunset. As the sun dropped, the sky above Yosemite blushed and on the other side of the valley, a shadow crept up Half Dome. I grabbed my camera and climbed to the top of North Dome for a better view.

Standing alone on the summit, I looked into the valley almost 4,000 feet below. Drivers heading down a serpentine highway began to turn on headlights, but the bustle was silent from high above. Actually, the lack of sound was peculiar. Not a whisper of leaves or a cricket’s chirp.

I continued to watch the shadow rise on Half Dome until only a bright sunny cap remained. Then that too was gone. I felt perfectly happy and content, and I never wanted it to end.

It wouldn’t have to if I could travel around the globe fast enough. I could chase an everlasting sunset. That sounded nice, until the sun completely vanished and the massive granite cliffs turned dusky purple and the stars came out.

I laid on my back with fingers intertwined behind my head. Not even a wisp of cloud shrouded the brilliance of the moon and starlight. It was the time of my life, and I never wanted it to end.

The cold hard granite became less comfortable with time. Then thoughts of a warm crackling campfire helped get me to my feet. But, there was Half Dome again, so beautiful under the azure glow of a half moon.  I knew as soon as I walked down to camp, the night would be over. In that fleeting moment, I wanted to memorize every mountain slope lit by moonlight, every tree forming the saw-toothed edge of the horizon, and the position of every star that hung so radiant above a view that stretched for miles.

“Alright, I’ll just stay a little bit longer,” I thought and laid back on the ground. I needed to feel that moment of closure, when I could call it a night and feel confident that I didn’t waste any of it. Consequently, that bit longer turned into another hour.

In that deep silence under the stars, my eyes wanted to sleep, but I kept jolting them awake. Then unexpectedly, exactly where my eyes were focused, a meteor shot across the sky.  Its bright fiery tail lasted for a few seconds then faded away.  I grinned. There was my moment. I had my closure.

As silly as it sounds now, I made a wish. I wished that nothing had to change.

I stood up and leaned with both hands on a trekking pole. I panned around in a complete circle to see it all one last time, and then headed back to camp.

Soon after, I’d make the decision to leave my job and walk away from everything I had, except what I could sling over my shoulders. That was three years ago. I’ve done a lot since then. I've watched countless sunsets. How crazy it seems now, that I never wanted this one to end.

I still struggle with changes and endings, but this lifestyle has taught me that rather than chase an everlasting sunset, I should just enjoy every experience while it lasts, and then wait for the next one.

Ten thousand sunsets had to come and go before I learned this lesson. Luckily, the best things in life are patient.

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