Key West Sunsets and the Elusive Green Flash

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istock_000003672900xsmall1-200x300The Green Flash, not a comic book character, but an atmospheric event –  that startling glint of neon green that appears just for a second on the upper curve of the sun just as its last little sliver dips under the horizon.  An optical sunrise or sunset atmospheric phenomenon, it lasts but a second or two and is the piéce de résistance of an etheral event, if you are lucky enough to see it.

So elusive and mystical, it’s the stuff of movies and books.  It’s the soul released in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End; an indication of true love in Jules Verne’s 1882 book Le Rayon Vert (The Green Flash).

Key West, the southernmost point in the United States, with its awesome sunsets and unobstructed views of the flat ocean horizon, is an ideal place to try to catch it…if you can.

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Sunsets all over the world are glorious phenomena – firery orange over a tropical sea, cool mauve, blue and silver streaks over a northern sky, golden hued haze through desert sand, saturated shades of coral overpowering for the moment the silhouette cut-outs of majestic mountains.  Sunsets, wherever they are, are magical, mysterious, unpredictable, yet consistently there, and the human response to them is universal.

They have the capacity to hold us spellbound.  Regardless of who we are, or how many we’ve seen, we never tire of them. Never the same twice, each contains an element of surprise.  We may know precisely what time they’ll occur, but what they’ll look like is a mystery even as they unfold.

Our connection to them is visceral, emotional.  They are so incredibly beautiful, yet so fleeting.  They put the day to rest, and offer hope for a new one. They bring out the romantic in us, and in their glow, the unremarkable and ordinary turn magic.  We paint them and photograph them, hoping to capture their essence, but never quite do.  They are, quite simply, a quiet natural wonder with a powerful mystique.

Key West has a special kinship with awesome sunsets – so much so that this atmospheric show is celebrated daily at the Sunset Celebration on the Mallory Square docks, and aboard wonderful sailing schooners, the Schooner Liberty, and the Schooner Western Union , which sail into the sunset every day to celebrate the happening with champagne, island cuisine, laughter and song.

As the schooners head out of Key West Harbor just as the colors begin to build for their splendid spectacular, everyone eagerly anticipates the celebrated event.  All eyes are on the edge of the horizon where water meets the sky, watching the fireball slide silently into the water and disappear.

As the vivid color dims, quickly turning into the blues and mauves of velvety dusk, the passengers grow mellow, knowing that the cycle will begin again at as the sun rises on the other side, a chariot fire moving across the morning sky on its way to its nightly ritual.And just sometimes, these spectacular sunsets and sunrises come with an added bonus – the elusive Green Flash.  On all the sunset sails, on oceanside balconies, on piers and docks, those in the know are always looking for it, cameras ready, hoping that this time they’ll see it or their camera will capture it!To catch the elusive moment, watch the last few moments of the setting sun (wear sunglasses and never look directly at it).  Look at the horizon appearance.  If the bottom of the sun is spiky and ruffled-looking, the chances increase that you may see it.  Blink, and you’ll miss it!

Many in this island community swear they have seen it.  I have!

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