I made this painting last evening during the sunset. We were in Hawk Cove, just outside Middle River where we keep our boat docked. With only a slight breeze, we were able to poke along with the mainsail instead of going to the trouble of anchoring. I was attracted to an amazing bulge of shockingly white cloud erupting from the bank of blue-gray on the horizon. The tinge of yellow and peach from the descending sun would be interesting to try to capture in watercolor.
As soon as I began, circumstances conspired to annoy me. My husband was feeling too relaxed after a nice picnic dinner to steer, so the boat twisted slowly away from my view. Since the sunset would soon be over, he wanted to start the engine and be on our way. As soon as he made this known, I protested. One of the best things about a sunset on water is the stillness that settles over everything. It’s also almost impossible to capture it in a painting, because the scene is constantly changing.
Even with a quick attempt, the glowing cloud that had first caught my attention moved off to the north. The entire view became suffused with lavender, the water included. The blue-gray clouds were now glowing pink and gold. Not the garish colors of a desert sunset, but the modest tints of Maryland summer. It was a spectacular, offhand illustration of the ephemeral, as if the clouds were speaking: Pay attention. Watch closely or you will miss this.
And isn’t that the appeal of watching the sun set? It’s a reminder of how fleeting everything is. The world seems so solid and status quo at noon. Problems strike us as intractable, unsolvable. And yet the very nature of life on earth is constant, relentless change. Every moment differs from the one just before it and the one coming next.
Watching clouds move across a summer sky may seem like the idle activity of children and loser adults. And yet, to observe change on a regular basis can be a profoundly spiritual act. Especially when I’m feeling trapped in a situation or a system—even one of my own making—a few sunsets could have quite a salutary effect.
I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about going out on the boat yesterday afternoon. There were so many things to do around the house, work and emails to catch up on. Once we got organized and out there, though, we all enjoyed it. The osprey were in their nests atop each channel marker, the young barely distinguishable from their parents, they’ve grown so much over the summer. I felt the privilege of sitting in the quiet as the sun descended, settling a stillness over everything that soaked into my bones. The magic of light on water—glints, shimmers, reflections, ripples. Diamonds and silver and gold made more precious by their changeability.
My reluctance to go out on the sailboat, especially for longer trips, ultimately stems from a deep aversion to surrendering control, putting myself in the hands of weather, an old boat’s unpredictable mechanics, and close quarters with other people for extended periods of time. And yet, I’ve had the most transcendent and terrifyingly transformative experiences on that boat. This includes storms, yes, but also light on water, quiet, stillness, the marvels of the in-between stretching from day to night. Last evening reminded me that these moments, whether dramatic or subtle, are a priceless reminder of the ever-changing nature of reality.