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Non-fiction Photo Essay

Chasing a Sunset

My wife and I have had a habit for … well, about as long as we’ve known each other: watching sunsets. Admittedly, it’s not a particularly original habit, as there are countless people who do the same thing. It’s one we note whenever we can when we’re at home in Alberta (which has some pretty fantastic skies); it’s a mission whenever we’re on vacation.

In July 2019, our family went out to the East Coast of Canada, most to visit with the portion of my father-in-law’s family that lives in Nova Scotia. My little subsection of the family wanted to see as much of the Atlantic provinces as possible with the limited time we had, so threw a couple of extra days at Prince Edward Island to see what it could show us.

One day in particular, we had decided that we wanted to see a cèilidh (“cay-lee”), which is most simply described as a Celtic music show. There’s more to it than that — they often also include dancing, story-telling, and the community aspect is important — but that’s a different story, one I can only tell after I revisit PEI and see a few more cèilidhs.

Cèilidh at Malpeque Community Centre

The building was 151 years old, the music was sometimes older, but the music was lively, the characters on stage amazing.
The building was 151 years old, the music was sometimes older, but the music was lively, the characters on stage amazing.

This particular cèilidh (regrettably, the only one we saw) was held in the Malpeque Community Centre, a 150 year-old building that has probably seen more music, dance, and stories than anyone in that room could reasonably conceive. The performers were as close to professional cèilidhers (cèilidhites?) as they come, frequently performing during the summer months. They were wonderfully talented, engaging, and very much worth the price of admission.

For almost everyone, anyway: our girls were unimpressed. It might have been the day of travelling about the island, it might have been the lack of appeal of the music, I still don’t know to this day. However, they wanted to leave and go back to the house we called home on PEI, and … well, this is where I was so baffled why they wanted to leave: there wasn’t anything to do there. Also, another story.

As we left, we couldn’t help notice that the sun was setting. My wife immediately whipped out the map to determine the best possible place for us to watch the sunset. Quickly realizing that although the Malpeque Community Centre sits quite near water, there wasn’t ready access to a shoreline.

This, dear reader, is when I need to truly relate my joy at being the last generation to learn how to read a paper map. There have been several times — in recent years — when I have trekked into areas with minimal-to-no wireless signal. Those awesome features on the iPhone become little more than fancy buttons, ‘cuz they can’t do anything without data. Western Canada, with its huge open and largely underpopulated land, has many spaces that have no coverage. Interestingly, even comparatively tiny places, like PEI, have the same issue.

In a moment, I had my driving instructions: South for two kilometres, right onto the 104, two kilometres and then right again, and go until we ran out of road.

The urgency at which we tackled this challenge might be viewed with the same skepticism one might throw at someone stops to pick up a penny: there’s 30,000 sunsets in an average (Canadian) human life, so why rush one? Because it’s the moment.

While there may be 30,000 days in an average human life, how many of those days are indoors, obscured by inclement weather, occupied with events, locked in soulless commutes? Let’s say we have 10,000 good days in our lives that present us with an opportunity to have a moment. Even if you see only the best part of a sunset, that’s 10 minutes of your time, about 69 days in total over your lifespan. How much time have you lost due to being trapped under a roof, staring at a storm or a blizzard, trapped in a bus?

I’ve taken every opportunity to watch a sunset, even if I’m stuck in traffic.

Sunset on a bus

Must ... bring ... SLR ... to ... work ...
Must ... bring ... SLR ... to ... work ...

The trick isn’t to just witness a sunset, it’s to experience it. It might be only a shifting of the sky to the Earth’s rotation, it’s one of the few times you can look at the sun and enjoy it for what it is: a bringer of warmth and life and light. Most of the time we’re trapped under it’s harshness, having to cover up and protect. At the end of the day, as it wanes through our atmosphere, there’s a moment like a held breath, when the sun is holding a place in the horizon, a final look, a promise that it will return the following morning.

Barely six minutes later, we stood on the shore of Malpeque Bay.

Sunset over Malpeque Bay

Sunset over Malpeque Bay

As far as sunsets go, it was decidedly better than average on my scale. And at my age, I’ve seen a lot of sunsets. I sincerely hope to see quite a lot more before the sun sets on me for the final time.