I was standing in my backyard during the final sunset of 2001. After a full afternoon of yard work and chores, I sat down next to my pond to watch the dusk turn into darkness. The sun had illuminated the western sky with vivid oranges and ruby reds. As I watches the dramatic colors fade I began to reflect on my favorite spots for watching the sunset.
I’ve always enjoyed hiking in the mountains. Situated on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee is the Smoky Mountains National Park and at the very top of the park’s highest road is Clingman’s Dome. Watching the sunset from here is easy and a magnificent sight. You can drive all the way up to a parking lot. Be sure to bring a chair and perhaps a picnic supper (KFC makes a finger lickin’ good meal). Now for the sunset… you’re above everything. The views are wonderful for 360°, but you’ll want to look to the west for the unobstructed views across the hazy skies. In the foreground are the dead trunks of the firs and spruce tree which once dominated this mountain, beyond… an endless palette of blues and reds.
Mont Saint Michel is an island just off the coast of France where Normandy and Brittany meet. Atop the mountain is an abbey with a small village spilling down the hill to the water’s edge. During my last trip to MSM I was treated to a sunset and incoming tide, both at the same time. My friends and I had arrived on the island at 9:30 p.m., too late for dinner, but in time to feast on the beautiful sunset. Just three hours before the island had been packed shoulder-to-shoulder with mobs of tourist, but now we shared the streets with the local folks. They were going about their chores, cleaning after a day of entertaining the big bus tours. We enjoyed our walk to the top of the abbey, munching on crackers and cheese at each of our rest stops. The view to the east and south is filled with green fields, herds of sheep… simple farmland. To the west and north is the Atlantic Ocean. The sun began to dip into the ocean at about 10:30. It looked like a dollop of molten lava being dropped in to the cool waters of the Atlantic. Framing the sun was a multitude of reds, oranges, and pinks fading to cool blues and violets as the sun dipped below the horizon and into the cool waters of the sea. We stood leaning against the ancient stone walls of the abbey looking in awe at the beautiful sight. Mont Saint Michel is wonderful after all the tourist leave!
Assisi, like Mont Saint Michel, is a town built around a religious structure. It is situated in the heart of Italy in an area known as Umbria. Surrounded by rolling hills planted with amber grains, tall green pines, and red-roofed villages, Assisi is an ideal spot to experience Italian village life. I arrived in Assisi on a Sunday afternoon last summer. I had driven from Rome. After a rather strenuous walking tour of the town, I decided to find a place to picnic for dinner. The city is surrounded by an ancient wall with several castles. They were used to defend the town in the Middle Ages, today they dominate the hillside as crumbled relics of the past. I visited a local grocery to gather my picnic supplies and headed off to the smaller of the two castle known as the Rocca Minore. As I hiked through the shimmering silver olive groves I became aware of the singing birds, children playing in yards below, and rustling of the wind in the trees. I arrived at the castle about two hours before the sunset so I found a spot on the wall, hung my feet over the side and spread out my picnic dinner. I feasted on homemade cheese. prosciutto, olives, oil, and bread washing it down with the local red wine. Finally the cloudless sky began to change from the rich blue to subtle pink. I could hear a religious precession accompanied by singing at the church down the hill below me. The setting sun performs a lot longer across the central hills of Italy than at Mont Saint Michel. I watched as it sank for over an hour through the every changing horizon, all the time silhouetting the large castle on the next hill over. Just about dark the bats arrived, coming from behind me and making their way out into the night diving into the valley below with eerie screeching noises. As lights came on in the town below I packed up my bag and strolled down the hill by the light of the moon.