Other Sunsets

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Heading West

For many years I worked twelve-hour shifts at a hospital in Houston. 7A-7P makes for a very long day. If I was working back-to-back shifts, I would often spend the night with my sister in Houston, repeat the twelve-hour shift the next day before heading home on 290 West to Brenham. With daylight saving time, that hour drive home went from being a burden to a pleasurable drive into a beautiful sunset painting. As I drove the colors changed as the sun sank lower and lower. It was a constantly changing panorama of different hues of yellow, shades of oranges, washes of blues and brilliant flaming reds. Those sunsets made each of those drives seem like a drive into an art gallery.

My sister has had a small home in the country for many years. I have had the pleasure of IMG_4779enjoying many sunsets from the porch of her farmhouse. It is peaceful sitting on that porch and listening to the sounds of the night beginning to appear as the sun falls to the horizon bathing the trees and pond in its waning light. A Great Blue Heron that lives on her pond goes to roost.

The beauty of ocean sunsets always leaves me breathless. The ocean restores my body and soul and I can actually feel this giant peacefulness settle over me while sitting on the beach watching the sunset. The brown pelicans are making their final beach patrol and I know that while I sleep the ocean waves will be busy all night long bringing new treasures to the beach.

From the Balcony

When I moved to Austin ten years ago, it was very important for me to be near the water. Austin has many bodies of water and after much searching I found my perfect nest. Each night during the summer months, as the sun begins to set, the blazing sunsets can be spectacular. As dusk begins to settle firmly over the landscape, the bats begin leaving their daytime roost from under the Congress Street bridge heading east in their nightly scavenge for the millions of insects that make up their diet. It looks like a giant black ribbon that has been threaded across the sky. Thousands of people each year flock to the Congress Street Bridge at sunset to watch this phenomena. And it is spectacular.

Congress Street Bridge Bats

Another interesting sunset “happening” that I have yet to experience occurs looking out over the ocean in La Jolla California. Each night we would watch the sun drift lower and lower to the horizon in the hopes that we would witness the “green flash”. The green flash is viewable because refraction bends the light of the sun. The atmosphere acts as a weak prism, which separates light into various colors. When the sun’s disk is fully visible above the horizon, the different colors of light rays overlap to an extent where each individual color can’t be seen by the naked eye.” (http://www.livescience.com/26376-green-flash.html). Each trip I make to California finds me hopeful that one day, while viewing a magnificent sunset over the Pacific Ocean, I will witness the “green flash”. Someday.

Awaiting the “green flash”

And then there are the sunsets of our lives. I am certainly approaching or have already arrived at the sunset portion of my life. Looking back, I realize that there are many chapters that have led to my sunset years. Infancy, Childhood, Puberty, Young Adult, Middle Age, and Senior. There are certain tell-tell signs that let us know when we are approaching our sunset chapter. The one that jumped out at me a few years ago was when I lived on a farm. I was walking from the barn to the house and I stumbled, went down on one knee, but jumped back up very quickly. My daughter who was walking with me grabbed my arm and asked if I was OK. At that moment the thought that crossed my mind was “She thinks I am old” With that moment I realized that getting older happens so gradually that we are unaware of its creeping presence. So, your children beginning to worry about you, the over 55 discounts and advertisements that begin showing up in our mailboxes, the loss of muscle strength or body flexibility are just a few of the obvious sign posts that herald the arrival of the sunset portion of our lives.

I may be in those sunset years, but in my brain I am still existing in those chapters that traverse my twenties and thirties! So until I ride into my final sunset I plan on just enjoying every minute and living life to the fullest.

Happy bird searching!!! And sunset gathering!!!

Memorable Sunsets

Sunset in the Botswana Bush


A lifetime of sunsets. So many of them beautiful, some captured on film, others burned into my brain hard drive and still others unremarkable, but like the sun coming up each day, we know and expect that it will set as well. A never-ending cycle of life. The life of a day. Sunsets speak. Slow down. Rest. Be still. This day is finished.

One memorable shared sunset happened in Africa. My sister, daughter and oldest granddaughter and I had traveled into the bush to four different camps for the opportunity to view some of our planets most majestic mammals and birds in their native environment. An extraordinary trip, one which changed me forever.

Young Leopard in the bush – Personal Photo GKennedy

Each morning we would rise before sunup, dress and wait for our guides to come fetch us from our tent. Camp rules stated that we could not leave our tents once we were deposited there the night before unless we were accompanied by staff. And believe me, in Africa when nighttime visitors may include elephants or great cats, one stays put and follows the rules. In Africa people are prey, not predators. We ate a light breakfast around a campfire and then climbed into our range rover to begin our morning of bouncing about in the bush in pursuit of native wildlife to capture with our eyes and cameras. I wasn’t “officially” a bird watcher then, but my camera captured many birds that I have since added to my Life List.

Mid-morning we stopped for “tea” and then went again until around Noon when we returned to our campsite for a huge brunch followed by about two or three hours of free time before we started out once more in our vehicle. Right before sundown, our guides would pull our jeep to a halt, pull down the back tailgate and begin preparing our evening cocktail of choice as they passed hors d’oeuvres. This happened each night while in the bush and each night we sat and watched the sun set on one of the most fascinating continents on our planet. No time in the jeep was ever wasted for even as we returned to our camp after sundown, our guide would be scanning the land on either side with a huge infrared light trying to give us a glimpse of those animals who are nocturnal and only move at night.

Hippos spend the day in the water but come ashore at night to forage for greens to eat. – Personal Photo GKennedy

One of our days came to an end when we were in a small boat skimming over the waters of the Okavango Delta. Our guide simply stopped the boat, took out the necessary equipment to give us our nightly “cocktail hour” as we watched the sun sink below the horizon.

Sunset over the Delta – Personal Photo GKennedy

I fully intended this piece to be about different sunsets in my life….from my balcony overlooking Lady Bird Lake or from my car as I began my long drive home from Houston to Brenham after my 12 hour shift at the hospital. But my memories took me first to Africa sunsets and the many beautiful creatures that live in such peace in their vast homeland. So, another day, another post for those other memorable sunsets.

I’ll finish this piece with some thoughts that I wrote immediately after my return from Africa. My view of life, the sheer majesty of it all, was forever changed as I mentioned earlier.

Written in May 2008 – “Upon my return from Africa, many friends/family have asked me to “tell” them about the experience. I am frustrated by my inadequacies in describing this adventure and the incredible vastness and beauty of this continent. So, here is my first fragmented attempt  to relate how my trip there has impacted my life.

Giraffe Hiding Behind Tree – Personal Photo GKennedy

The scents of sage, wild basil, wild lavender, pretty lady, elephant dung, earth. The vastness of the countryside that swallows a huge elephant as if it were no bigger than a fly. How well the animals blend in and disappear into the grasses/trees, so rounding a bend in the road, a giraffe can be 100 yards away and remain invisible until someone cries out “giraffe!” and a large bull elephant bellows, flaps his ears, stomps his feet making himself look larger, with no clue of his greatness, to express his indignation for being surprised by our appearance.

Fruit bats crying in the night and the “rahoo” of the baboons up in the trees during the day. Having morning tea with two lions 100 meters away. Close encounters with eye to eye contact with the big cats… lions, leopards, cheetahs. The infinite patience of observing our guide Teko tracking a leopard for 45 minutes driving over bushes/shrubs and around trees to suddenly be face to face with a male leopard.

The large wealth of medicinal trees and shrubs within Africa. The incredible patience, knowledge and teaching skills of our guides who demonstrated such pride in their homeland. The graciousness of the people who cared for us so diligently, providing for our every need even when we had no idea of what that “need” was and protecting us from ourselves as well as the danger that lurked around every corner within and without our camps.

Sunset in Downtown Austin – Personal Photo GKennedy

I sit here now in my apartment listening to the “sounds” of urban life…cars, freeway noise, and view the many lights of the city…the sights and sounds of humanity. I have returned to civilization.  But I am afraid I have left my heart in Africa. A land that can change one’s view of just what is important in life.  The sights/sounds/experiences/ vastness/ graciousness, sheer beauty of Africa are burned into my brain and soul. I want to return, to revisit and explore more. And, hopefully I will be able to do so in the not so distant future.”

Happy bird searching wherever you might be!!!!