Between the dark and the daylight, when the night is beginning to lower, comes a pause in the day's occupations that is known as the Children's Hour."
That's the opening line of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I memorized it in fifth grade (the whole poem, not just the first line) and recited it in a school contest in front of God and all his angels and a cafeteria full of parents that included my mother. Much to my surprise, I won a trophy.
I liked winning that trophy. It was big and shiny and engraved with the words: "First Place for Reading and Recitation." I put it on a shelf in my bedroom to remind me that (1) I might be poor; and (2) I might be homely; but (3) at least I was first place in something.
I entered the contest because my teacher made me do it. But I learned that poem because I loved it. I loved the sound of it, the rhythm, the way its words rolled off my tongue and burrowed into my chest.
Most of all, I loved it because it reminded me of evenings I spent with my grandmother on her farm in the mountains.
After supper, when the dishes were done (she washed, I dried, we hummed together), she'd say, "Let's go sit on the porch and watch the evening come up."
I wish you could've seen it.
Evening came up quickly in those mountains, filling the valleys with a darkness as thick and black as the coffee that boiled on the wood stove.
The dimming of the day took my breath away. The colors of the sunset on the western sky. The dance of the swallows swooping over the barn. The flickering of the lightning bugs flashing their lanterns in the hydrangeas by the road.
I watched all those things, committing them to memory, fearing I might not have them forever. But what kept me on that porch, quiet and content at my grandmother's side for as long as she chose to stay there, was something that has taken me years to understand.
I'm not sure I understand it now. But I've come to believe in the ritual of sunset -- marking the passage of the day by taking a little time to show up, be still and bear witness to its beauty.
Or better yet, sharing it with someone you love.
It is easier to do in some places than in others. But place is not as important as intention.
My brother is totally blind. He has never seen a sunset. But once, when we were children, sitting on the steps busting caps with a rock, he turned his face to the warmth of the setting sun and said, "Look at that, Sister! Boy, that's beautiful!"
My new home, Las Vegas, a city that never sleeps, is known worldwide for its nightlife. Not so much for its sunsets.
Tourists don't often see a lot beyond the hotels and casinos. Those of us who live here are blessed with a different view.
Sunset in my backyard starts with an endless blue sky streaked with neon-pink clouds and contrails from jets that play tic-tac-toe above my head.
Birds line up along the fence: pigeons, doves, finches, several families of quail and sometimes a passing hawk that sends the others diving for cover.
Jackrabbits eat the grass (and anything else I plant). The sun lights up their long ears, turning them translucent pink.
A breeze rustles the palm trees. In the gulches on the golf course, coyotes sing their songs.
As the sun slips behind the mountains, night lights appear like pinpricks on a velvet curtain -- stars above, city lights below, the beam from the Luxor to our north -- and the moon gets tangled up in a pepper tree.
I wish you could see it. This is nightlife in Las Vegas, just off the Strip. I want a trophy that says "First Place in Sunsets."intelligencer
Sharon Randall is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service (www.sharonrandall.com).