Sometimes a dog just won’t let you alone and will tap your leg with his paw, telling you to get up and take him out. We’ve had a run of drizzle-days where it’s just not inviting out there, and the household seems to be in a Twixmas stupor. A friend has told me this time is called ‘Romjul’ in Norway (‘mindful mooching’) and ‘Zwischen den Jahren in German’ (‘between the years’). Call it what you like, no one is motivated to go anywhere, except by Fergus the dog, and it’s my turn to obey.
To my shame the daylight is fading, and I lengthen my stride and modify my intended circuit as I take the lane from the roundabout and head off the beaten track. It turns out we’re in the ‘golden hour’, that time just before sunset (and sunrise) when the quality of light is most beautiful, and photographers get out there to take their most captivating shots. Apparently it’s sometimes called the ‘magic hour’ by them, as the light can be so bright and brilliant that it competes with the streetlights and the shine from house windows. Right now it’s more subdued, but all the better for it – everything is bathed in a soft, pink light: the bare tree trunks take on a warm hue, while the meadow we stop beside glows an invitation to all the rabbits and birds that are hiding from view, while we intruders come through. The old man’s beard and dead grasses look other-worldly and wonderful, their faded tones absorbing the new light. It’s like viewing the scene through a photographic filter lens, but you couldn’t capture the feeling it creates inside you, no matter how hard you tried – it’s a still evening, which is part of it. I could be in a church waiting in silence for the bride – a meaningful hush is here as beauty is both enjoyed and anticipated. Now a robin flies in front of us and lands in a branch close to me. Her outline is unmistakable, though she’s without colour as the light is fading fast. I greet her, before a rook startles her from above and sends her flying.
We think of winter as cold and stark – this scene is anything but.
I pause at intervals down the very muddy path to watch the sky, but Fergus pulls me on. I really should look where I’m going as I’m sliding every which-way, but it’s just too captivating! Sunsets contain my favourite colours in all of nature, and, like a photograph, words really cannot do them justice. It’s the way the colour seeps and intensifies, like newly applied wet watercolour – you’re not sure where the colours will blend next, and you cannot take your eyes off the page. I lean on the fence for a minute as the glow builds. It’s like watching fireworks… you wonder if this is the grand finale, yet it continues, as the colours burn through the sky. Though you merely spectate you feel a part of it, and it touches you deep inside.
I wander on in the gloaming now, for the sun has well and truly set and darkness is falling. If you are reading this and wondering when you might catch the sunset, on New Year’s Day 2022, it will happen at 15.58 in Dover, whereas in Durham it will be at 15.50, and St Andrews at 15.45, so there’s some variation, depending on your exact location. Unlike our view of the moon, which is pretty standard across a nation, the scene will of course be different depending on cloud and elevation. It’s interesting to think, too, that other creatures perceive sunsets differently to us. Reindeer, for example, can see ultraviolet light, giving them an even more striking sunset experience, it’s been suggested. And the reason why? To help them find lichen to eat. I can just picture reindeer out grazing with a dramatic sunset behind them, a card-worthy scene. That there’s a purpose to this reminds me we only know a fraction of what’s going on in the universe around us, and why.
Of course, the sun is setting on another year, and for some this feels a year to be rid of. The year ahead may look uncertain, whether on a personal or a national scale, but the sun will continue to set (unless the Lord returns), and we will find ourselves here again next year, looking back and wondering what the coming year will bring. No sunset is ever repeated, yet its brilliance remains the same; there is often a nervous apprehension as we approach a new year, wondering what it will hold, but the one who paints just a touch of his glory into the skies is the creator of our lives. He will hold our past, our present and our futures, if we let him.
 From a walk on December 29th, 2021.