Sunset on the hill





We took a drive on Friday, just needing sunshine and space. Fresh air. Ice cream. “Let’s go see the sunset,” my husband said, and we drove to Chapel Point — a great place to feel both opened up and small.

My feelings on faith are complicated. But there’s something about a church that still resonates with me — a key clicking into a lock.

I’ve never been inside St. Ignatius, a Catholic parish founded in 1641 — one that still thrives today. I have stood along its brick paths and gazed out over its cemetery on the hill, overlooking the Port Tobacco River. I have been in its shadows.

Everything I touch each day is chrome, glass, wood. We value “new.” I do, too. But there is power in the past. Standing next to the centuries-old church reminded me of all that the parish has weathered. Coronavirus (and live-streaming of Catholic Mass! Oh, if the Jesuits could see them now) … well, that’s just another page in a long story.

We whispered to the kids about sacred ground, tiptoeing only along the edges. We watched the sun sink lower. Ollie plucked a dandelion and made his wishes.

And we walked out — mosquito-bitten, grateful — hand in hand.

The riched and varied colors


Vacations were once the only time I admired sunsets.

Being “away” — from work, responsibility, the constraints of home — meant we were open to appreciating nature’s beauty. My mom has long lamented that we don’t have a good view of the skyline from my childhood home, making photographing dusk that much harder. But the slow drawl of vacation allows us to do what we want when we want to . . . and taking the time to admire the slow encroach of nightfall? Let’s do it.

I’ve changed, though. Tried to make conscious decisions to slow down. And since moving in with my husband last fall, I’ve been more open to admiring what I once reserved for “special occasions.”

For watching the sky.

Who doesn’t admire a good sunset? Even if we spend our entire workday frantically flipping through emails, pounding lattes and muttering about traffic, the spectacular colors in a winter sky can give even the most harried of commuters pause.

I’m no different.

Our building is perched on a hill overlooking the town — a steep drop into the center of it all. Sometimes I look out our living room windows and feel like a Roman guard, sworn to protect an outpost from bloodthirsty invaders. We have a perfect view of the green space and nearby parking lot, and I’m just paranoid enough to pay attention to others’ goings-on. I would make an exceptional look-out.

If you were worried about your car getting stolen, anyway.

Most of the time, though, I lean against our over-sized windowsills and just look at the sky. When Spencer moved in the year before we got engaged, this was our main form of entertainment. We had no television, no cable, no Internet. Before he was settled, sky-watching that June — windows open, humid night air pouring in — was our way to pass the time.

It was pretty magical, actually.

Even then I was picturing how I might fit into this fresh space. It was an exhilarating and scary thought, the idea of moving here, to this unknown space. This place with Spencer. (He made it far less scary, I’ll admit.)

As Old Man Winter has kept us inside for most of our first four months of marriage, I’ve had plenty of time to think of space. Of home. Of building this place into our place. It’s coming along, and I think we’ve done a great job.

Our perch above town has proved useful many times (Fourth of July fireworks, anyone?) — and most especially for soaking up sunsets. Because we’ve been too lazy/unconcerned to get curtains for the living room (don’t worry, all other spaces are covered!), we have gorgeous and unobstructed views of the sky. All the natural light was what initially drew us to the condo in 2011, actually.

It snowed to beat the band all day on Monday — fat flakes flossing the ground like powdered sugar. The “green space” has been far from green. But by dinnertime, the strips of cloud and sky had been spun a watercolor pink with blues and purples.

I thought of all the gorgeous sunsets we’ve already witnessed here, in our first home together.

And of all the rich and varied colors still to come.

On each other’s team


Tuesday was one of those extraordinary days we get just once or twice each winter: a freakishly warm afternoon conjuring memories of spring. A delightful tease. It’s disconcerting at first — weird and unnatural, really — but you dig around for flats, shuck off your bulky coat and bask in the oddness. Knowing it’s fleeting makes it all the more exciting. You choose to revel.

When I left the office that night, heels clicking against the sidewalk, I looked up at a burning sunset that followed me all the way home. I was driving into that sunset, it felt; dusk was mesmerizing. And eerie, too, knowing how temperatures would plummet from 65 to 30 overnight. Like any good one-time aspiring meteorologist, I’d been following the winter weather reports for days . . . and sure enough, a snowstorm blanketed D.C. and its cozy suburbs by yesterday afternoon.

But this was Tuesday — the calm before the storm. I met my husband without a jacket, arriving in the crowded pre-storm grocery parking lot after driving with the windows down. I thought about my college commute, driving up and down the Beltway with Jimmy Eat World and Death Cab for Cutie cranked high. I remembered once sailing across the Solomons Island bridge with my sister, the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” playing so loud our voices strained to match Brandon Flowers’ every note.

And there was more — so much more. I once had a tradition of playing John Mayer’s live album — especially “Why Georgia” — as soon as the weather began to warm, and hearing Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing” takes me back to riding the Tube around London alone. I played it constantly when I got back from my long weekend in 2009, trying to recapture the rush of moving independently through a foreign city. My city.

I miss music. I hadn’t really connected that until Tuesday, when I took a brief leave of Longbourn to enjoy the simple pleasures of the radio. My audio book didn’t fit my warm January mood: unexpectedly sunny; defiantly free. Scanning through the stations, I eventually found Lorde and OneRepublic . . . and for a second I didn’t feel so out-of-touch, so removed. I knew all the words.

And I sang them . . . loudly. As loud as I could.

Because I was alone — but not lonely.

Because spring really isn’t so very far away.

Sunset is its own occasion

{Cobb Island, Maryland}

Sunsets always seemed like a vacation thing.

How often do I pause at the end of a busy day to savor the pinks, reds and golds of dusk? When do I stand in my own front yard to soak up the fading sun? I don’t drive to take in sunsets when I’m home. I don’t have a camera in my hand. I’m making dinner, or driving, or reading, or watching “Teen Mom.” Or trying to write a blog post.

But on vacation? Sunset is its own occasion. No invitation required; just sit back and enjoy the show.

No matter where we are, I drop everything to photograph those colors — or just sit in the quiet, no camera, as the sun dips lower and lower. Often I find myself sitting in silence, staring at nothing. And everything. I don’t usually talk. As the sun sinks below the horizon, I huddle with friends or family or my boyfriend — whoever is handy — until darkness has enveloped us all.

In my everyday life, I don’t find myself sitting still long enough to watch the changing of light. Cloud patterns don’t draw me. I’m running to the next thing, and then the next . . . and summer darkness signals nothing more than a time to sleep. And do it all over again.

I’m trying to change that — and I think photography is helping me. In my attempts to soak up more of the “little moments” and not worry so much about the big picture, I’m naturally paying more attention to sunsets — year-round. Dusk is my favorite time of day, and I grew up listening to my mom talk about the golden hour as she clicked away with her own camera.

And now I emulate her. Being a complete iPhone addict, my phone is never far from my hands — and it seems I pay more attention to sunsets than I thought. Scrolling through my phone photos last night, a solid 50 percent of the 538 are sunsets. (The rest are food. Or my feet. Or nail polish. [I think I have a problem.])

Sunsets are a moment of beauty in an otherwise humdrum day. And though I don’t often have my DSLR with me to photograph the golden hour, I admire it — and take more time to appreciate it. Watching a sunset makes me feel . . . grateful. I hope I don’t ever lose that.

{Silver Beach, California}

{London, England}

{East Berlin, Pennsylvania}

{Outer Banks, North Carolina}

{Gerry, New York}

Sunset over the sound

Please excuse my beach-fried brain — I’m just home from the Outer Banks and not yet recovered. Coming straight off vacation and back to work doesn’t allow much room to catch up, and I’m currently catching up on email while scratching at a dozen mosquito bites on my arms. I swear, I must have the sweetest blood in the South.

In the meantime, please enjoy this shot of the sunset over Albemarle Sound on Saturday, our last night in town. And I’ll be back lickety-split. (And please send Cortisone.)