(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
Following the main street through the center of Fish Creek, Wisconsin, on the western shore of the Door Peninsula, I stopped at the literal end of the road and stared out at the blue-white ice-skimmed surface of Green Bay.
Sunset Beach Park is as far as you can go.
A hundred yards or so to my right, out on the frozen shoreline of the bay, there were three people setting up cameras and tripods and occasionally their voices, scraps of conversation or a sudden burst laughter, carried to where I was standing. But for the most part, I was wrapped in cold winter silence.
Of course, winter isn’t really silent at all. Even snowflakes make a sound when enough fall together. And as I sat on the curving stone wall looking over the cobbled beach, I began to notice the occasional sharp fracturing sound of the ice as it moved, edge against frozen edge.
The park, aptly named, faces due West and provides a expansive view of the sunset and I imagine in summer, high season for the peninsula, when small towns swell with tourists and part-time residents, there is always a crowd at the end of the day. But it was still an hour to sunset on a cold February day, when the temperature was dropping with the sun, and still the view was irresistible. Minute by minute the colors of the sky changed.
Suddenly the quiet was broken by the chatter and squeals of three teenage girls. They’d been strolling shoulder to shoulder down to the beach but when they saw the way the clouds surrounding the sun were stained, and shafts of light were streaking across the water toward them or shooting straight up, piercing the cloud cover like searchlights trained on the sky, they forgot whatever they’d been discussing and ran headlong down to the shore and out to the dangerous edge of the brittle iceline. The mother in me reacted and I almost called out to them to be careful. I could imagine their response, noticing for the first time the woman they’d hurried past, rolling their eyes at my warning. I held my breath as they danced and laughed.
“Ohmygod, Ohmygod,” they called out, posing for one photograph after another, taking turns behind the camera. “This is so beautiful.”
“ Take one of me like this.”
“No, take one of me.”
By then, as if summoned to a meeting, a few more people had joined me at the park and cars were pulling over. On the ice, half a dozen serious photographers jostled for position, some setting up in one spot only to abruptly move to another- a better-angle for taking the perfect photograph. Other people simply pulled out cellphones and held them up, ready for the moment when the color would peak.
As we all stood there, watching the sun move slowly, inexorably, to the edge of the horizon, washing the entire western sky in a deep pink, I thought about what primal drive compels us to stop for sunrises and sunsets and to record them if only in memory. Whatever it is, spiritual call or instinct, I was, in that moment, aware of its presence and grateful for it.
It has to be a good sign, don't you think? Evidence that no matter where progress and time are taking us, we are, at heart, still connected to the natural world. On a raw Wisconsin winter day, we are held by its gravity and pulled by its beauty enough to make our way down to the shore to stand and wait, to celebrate the gift of the sun that paints the sky with fire.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org