Maybe it’s because without mountains in the way we don’t have to look up to see the sky, but here in the Flint Hills of Kansas when we talk about our sunsets or sunrises we frequently begin waxing poetic. Maybe that’s more a country thing than one specific to Kansas. Maybe because we live close to the land and the seasons we are more apt to take notice of the sun ups and downs.
Of course, the sun makes no decision to shine or set more beautifully in one location over another. The science behind sunrises and sunsets is the same everywhere. With little regard for landscape, the earth rotates, creating the illusion that the sun comes up and goes down. So what makes these sunrises and sunsets so special? Well, it may be a case of beauty being in the eye, or the heart, of the beholder. If you have ever been stopped in place by the awe of a particularly stunning sunrise or sunset, you know that they often evoke an emotional response from the people viewing them.
Each sunrise and sunset reflects our human understanding of the comings and goings of our days, and this visual splendor is inseparable from our inner emotional dialogue. Sunrises and sunsets mark the ever-cyclical beginning and ending of night to day and day to night. They are the transitions by which we measure our time here.
Stand and watch the sun slowly dip below the horizon line and you can’t help but feel a sense of reflection, possibly even longing, for the day just past. Do the same as the sun rises again in the east at the beginning of a new day, and you might feel excited expectation or promise in what lies ahead.
On the Great Plains of Kansas, as well as other places that allow for a long view, sunrises and sunsets are more than supporting players to our unique and expansive landscape. They are the entire show. Like summer storms moving in from the southwest or winter chills blowing down from the north, we watch and we pay close attention because living on the land we often feel more exposed and more personally affected by the power, as well as the beauty, of nature.
When everything aligns perfectly and we are treated to good, or surprisingly exceptional, weather, such as a 70-degree day in mid-July or a warm spell in January, we appreciate it more deeply because we have lived through many days of great imperfection. Since, here in Kansas, we endure temperature swings of more than 100 degrees, from summer days with heat and humidity so high we fear becoming liquefied to winter mornings so bone chillingly cold that our hair freezes, we don’t hesitate to appreciate or make excuses for feeling blessed by a particularly beautiful sunset. We have earned the right to pause and stand in awe of it.
And as we stand and watch, we are reminded that the sun is not a flat object dropping behind a solid line, but that we, in fact, are on a vast sphere that’s imperceptibly rolling away from the sun. Being in any open space at the evening turn is an excellent way to reconnect with the size and scale of our planet.
We’re fortunate that here in Kansas everyone, whether city dweller or country homesteader, is only a few minutes away from an open view and wide perspective of the horizon. And if you are born to this place, you tend to see this horizon differently than those who simply pass through.
But wherever we stand to watch the rising or setting sun, we are full of gratitude for the array of pinks and purples, splashes of oranges, golds and other colors reflected by the setting or rising sun across our landscape, and it becomes a blank slate on which we can record our hopes for the day to come or count our blessings for the one just passing.
It’s possible we believe that if we have lived through another day on the prairie where the winds didn’t blow us away, or the snow didn’t pile up too high; where the sun rose with precision warming the earth and all on it and then radiantly set allowing a cool breeze to soothe our skin, bones and spirit, well then, just maybe, it’s an indication that no matter what is transpiring elsewhere, at least for these few moments under a wide and awe inspiring sky, something is good and right.