I look up from my phone; I want to witness every minute of this, the last sunset at Depot Bay.
Well, technically, the sun will still set again tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that.
As I like to tell Liza, the sun never really sets at all! The earth spins and gives the illusion of the sun moving beneath the earth’s horizon. She never fails to wonder out loud at how she might have fallen so hopelessly for a man who is dead inside!
I reach across the picnic blanket, which protects us from the cold and wet boulder, find her warm hand without looking away from the sun. She, too, is intent upon soaking up every bit of the last sunset.
The sun will continue to set. It will continue to rise and set indefinitely, or at least as long as the earth rotates on its axis. The problem isn’t with the earth’s rotation. The problem is with the sun. The light is already 2% less than usual. Scientists quickly worked out the implications, news spread, people were advised to not panic. It wasn’t the end of the world. Yet.
Yes, the sun will set again tomorrow but, according to the eggheads, the sun will be 2% less tomorrow. One and a half percent the day after. The same the day after that and all the days for a week, then 1%, etc. After that, the rate at which the brightness diminishes will asymptotically approach zero percent change per day, but we will get there, eventually. We will eventually lose 100% of visible light from the sun. Ultimately, the day and night will be indistinguishable.
Amazing how they can calibrate it so precisely in advance, but had no forewarning that the sun was dying in the first place! Not like there was anything anyone could do anyway, I suppose. It would have been nice to know this last year, I think. Don’t ask me why. I doubt I could formulate any sensible answer. My gut says that I would have longer to savor the final majestic beauty of the daily sunset. Truthfully though, more warning would likely have only resulted in more time to mourn the disappearing sunlight, more time to panic, more time to suffer.
The visible light from the sun will be undetectable in less than three months. It will resemble a thirty-watt light bulb from a hundred yards away within weeks. The scientists have informed everyone that it will still warm the earth, that the radiation that warmed our planet wasn’t, mostly, visible light anyway.
Liza squeezes my hand and slumps against me. We sit on one of our favorite boulders just off the coast at Depot Bay, where we had our first date. I had packed a picnic lunch of pasta, egg salad sandwiches, and La Madeleine cookies (her favorite) and surprised her as she was leaving the junior college where she teaches. Since she was no longer my teacher, I was free to announce my feelings and ask her out on that impromptu picnic. The sunset that night was glorious. Several of them are. Of course, living in Oregon, we have a fair number of invisible sunsets. I’ve often thought about how liberating it would be to have a private pilot’s license. Even on the cloudiest of days, all one could hop in a plane and climb up to the top of the stratus, the cumulonimbus, and break free into all that glorious sunlight.
It’s easy to take the familiar for granted. I pull Liza even closer to me, whisper that I love her in her ear. I doubt she can hear me over the crash of waves, but she knows. Usually, when I whisper in her ear, it is that I love her.
Life will go on. It always finds a way, somehow. It won’t get cold for a decade or two, they tell us. The visible portion of the light is just gone. I’ve tried reading the scientific explanation for why this is so, but, so far, I’ve not been able to understand any of it. The visible portion of light from the sun is going out. Eventually, it will fade away to nothing. It will still radiate UV light so that will help some, but no one is no longer worried about global warming at least. Ironically, they caution us about the potential for sunburns. It makes sense. Who thinks about putting on sunscreen at night?! But all the light or electromagnetic radiation hitting the earth as soon as six months from now will be ultraviolet. Invisible to the naked eye but detrimental to human skin.
Sunlight is going away but not sunburns? Well, isn’t that some typical 2020 nonsense!?
Things are going to get cold. We are going to have to keep lathering up with sunscreen, but only during the ‘daytime’ … which will be indistinguishable from the ‘nighttime.’ Sheesh!
Food production will have to switch to hydroponics and artificially lighted greenhouse production quickly. Of course, this is the most drastic impact on our planet. Tragically, many will starve to death. Things are about to get worse. I hope we can move through this with grace and reason.
Groups of scientists have already called for a complete shutdown to all meat production planet-wide. According to them, we can no longer afford to spend that many resources on animal production. You can imagine how well that suggestion went over for cattle ranchers and meat lovers!
The president-elect and world leaders have banded together to urge calm. To squelch riots wherever they spring up. Balch Springs was a bloodbath, but desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose. The sitting president? Well, you know he likes to Tweet. I don’t follow him, but I’m confident that he’s labeled the whole thing ‘fake news.’
As of tomorrow, the nationwide 7:00 PM curfew goes into effect. I think it’s rather silly. In a few months, 10:30 PM will be virtually indistinguishable from 10:30 AM! I guess by then, we will have an around-the-clock curfew or lockdown? Only leave home for necessities and to work?
No one has said anything about martial law yet, but it’s easy to see the signs. They are everywhere. Even in a town as small as Depot Bay, our population is barely over a thousand, but I saw several large semis parked off 101. Unmarked semis? In Depot Bay? Yeah, my money is on troop supplies, equipment, etc. We are central only in our relationship to the 101, which I guess has been deemed a strategic point of control to maintain law and order.
So here we sit, Liza and I. We sit and watch the last sunset. Tomorrow, we will adhere to the curfew, of course. And we will watch the dimmer sunset tomorrow – provided there are no clouds, but you can never tell in Oregon. Hell, we could get a few months of clouds, and the next sunset we get to see might be very faint.
We’ve discussed it already. Once it gets too faint, we will stop watching. It’s like watching a gentle giant die. In the end, it just feels respectful to look away and grant the departing figure some privacy. It’s just too sad.
So we sit. Liza has nestled close to me. I can feel her heat through her denim jacket and my leather one. Suddenly I’m conscientious about wearing leather. I might need it eventually, and I can’t afford to throw it away, but I think when we get home later this evening, I will hide it away some place dark and private.
I’ve always thought I should be a vegetarian. I hope now I get the chance to do so.
Nothing about the coming days, weeks, or months is guaranteed.
The last silver of the sun slips beneath the Pacific. We stand on our boulder, only damp from the evening tide and embrace. The stars are beautiful tonight, but I have a feeling I’m going to grow rather tired of the stars once I can see them all day long. I am pretty certain that at some point the fact that they are all suns will eventually become an irritant. But for now, they are beautiful. We pick up our blanket and picnic basket and make our way back home after watching the last sunset in Depot Bay.
Written on election day, November 3, 2020