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Destination Clearwater: The Afterglow

The best part of the sunset happens after the sunset.

“The sun, red and enormous, began to sink into the western sky. And simultaneously the moon began to rise on the other side of the river with its own glorious shade of red, coming up out of the trees like a russet firebird. The sun and the moon seem to acknowledge each other and they moved in both opposition and concordance in a breath taking dance of light across the oaks and the palms.” – Jimmy Buffett


Clearwater Beach is not my number one choice at sunset. I love the sunset, don’t misunderstand. The simultaneous finality and infinite hope offered as the fire-yellow sun pushes its way to its cobalt bed speaks to parts of my soul I cannot even begin to understand.

I stand tonight on a crowded, changed and tired Clearwater Beach. Behind me, people celebrate the sunset. I do not begrudge them that, although I wish they didn’t have to celebrate it on my beach.

That’s right, my beach. I grew up on it, long before the roundabout, the sunset celebrations, and cotton-candy pink hotels belching upwards towards the skyline.

As the sun puts itself at eye level with what my beach has become, I am embarrassed for what it sees. This feels nothing like my beach, not even at sunset.

Within moments, though, she has slipped away for a few hours, and slowly, patiently, my dying beach comes to life as the people ebb away, splashes of garish T-shirts and raffish attitudes receding into the twilight. The sand stills and the sky blossoms.

When people head to the beach to watch the sunset, they often leave as soon as the sun falls below the horizon. This is a grievous mistake; the best part of the sunset is the afterglow. The sun only hints at its beauty as it slides through the sky. It’s the moments after it sets when the show starts.

Quiet explosions of purple, fuchsia and flame morph into golden cream and dainty rose, then separate out again, constantly churning and glowing in the deepening night. The afterglow is the real show, the time to watch the sky.

As much as I love the moments before the sun goes to its secret place, forever unknown to me, I love the shy audacity of the remnants of his disappearance. It is a symphony of colors to which the world is invited, yet most leave just as the orchestra finishes warming up. They hear only the unequal yet gorgeous harmonies; they do not know the synchronicity they leave behind.

Those of us left on the beach tonight watch the colors with rapt awe not unlike prayer. We sense one another, of that I am sure. We do not speak; we do not meet; we do not acknowledge. Still, I know we are all feeling the same thing as we watch this holy concert play out, lingering tonight longer than the night before. It is a fading summer twilight, twinged with yellow and orange. Over the next few months the sun will set sooner and the twilights will deepen and lengthen, becoming soulful, winter twilights painted in purples and pinks alone.

Even then, most people will leave at sunset, return the next day, wait for the sun to set again and race to their cars or the beach trolley in time to shower and change for dinner. Me?

I will be here, ever content to bask in the afterglow.

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