At the Dimming of the Day

Had I the power to snap my fingers and transport myself to a favorite place at will, I am not able to think of a destination more desirable than almost anywhere isolated in the Southwest at sunset.


Each night of this trip I have picked up a book as twilight began to gather after a day of hiking, thinking that I would relax and read for an hour. And each time, I have invariably put the book down in my lap, and simply watched and listened as the colors of the setting sun took control of the sky and metamorphosed through infinite changes, the birds flew and called, the breeze faded, the insects hummed and buzzed, the light faded, the planets and then the stars emerged, and finally the moon asserted its cool, white dominance over sky and earth alike. It is a performance that cannot be equaled by anything else in the world, until the same time the next day.


One night, I camped by a small lake in the Sheldon Antelope Range. Although all was arid and dry, it had been an unusually wet spring, and water was still draining out of the vast highlands into the small handful of streams that remained. All was dry and brown to within inches of the water of the lake, but at intervals in the shallows were beds of tall, vividly green rushes. Waterfowl of many types splashed and called across the lake — moor hens, ruddy ducks, willets, yellow eyes, and others too far off to identify as they moved in fleets across the water. Nighthawks dived and called overhead, the moor hens grunted in the rushes and huge thunderheads rose in the distance, catching the fire of the sunset, far enough away for me to appreciate their towering majesty, but not close enough for me to hear their thunder.


Another night, I camped by a tiny stream in a high meadow in one of the scores of mountain ranges that divide the broad valleys of Nevada from North to South like the folds of a rumpled tablecloth. The stream was barely more than a foot wide at the riffles that separated its pools, which themselves were never broader than five feet, but the music of moving water in arid terrain has a magnified charm all its own. As the twilight gathered, I periodically heard the improbably loud splash of a trout taking a fly in the small pool a few feet from where I lay watching the stars emerge.


Two nights ago, I looked away from the sunset, and saw orange and crimson draperies descending from the clouds, ending raggedly half way to the ground. They looked for all the world like the northern lights, but in fact were virga — sheets of rain that fall towards earth, but evaporate in the dry air before they reach the ground — that were capturing the fire of the sunset.


Last night, the shooting stars came out early and often.


I would have expected that, by now, I would begin to grow fidgety in the evening and look to my book for diversion, but strangely that has not happened, perhaps because I know that all too soon, I will not be able to snap my fingers and return.