Nature of Things: Sundown

By Kimberly Mayer

Journal contributor

You could say we are coastal people. North or south, it’s the ocean that pulls us. Our northern home is on a bay where the trees meet the water, logs rest in mud, buoys bob, ducks float by, rafts of otters play along the shoreline, and solitary heron knee-deep in water tiptoe over rocks. Except for the call of gulls and eagles from their treetop lookouts, it’s quiet. Sometimes a voice will carry across the water, but not many people live in the San Juan Islands.

In Solana Beach, California, where we’re wintering, the surf pounds. Day and night the perpetual pounding and crashing becomes one with our breath, our pulse, our being. Surfers seize the surf all year long, but we give it a wide berth and walk the long sandy beaches in winter. Then at the end of every day, high on a bluff at Seascape Shores, a handful of people seat themselves upon a couple rows of benches, like pews, to witness the setting sun.

All ages, all neighbors, living aside, across from, and on top of each other in a cubist configuration of condos that forms a village, that’s Seascape Shores. Here the communal ritual of seeing the sundown has been going on since I-don’t-know-when. I just know that for the final leg of the sun’s long arc across the sky every day, we arrive in the golden light in which everyone looks good, and bid goodbye in darkness.

At the same time on the beach below, dozens or hundreds of birds line up near the water’s edge and face the sun every day at sunset too. Like us they are all in a line, very still, and facing forward. Thrilled to be sharing our sun-worshipping moments with another species, I thought, I really must ask my friend, Tyler Davis, about it. Naturalist and bird guide on San Juan Island, he would know.

Tyler guessed, rightly, they are Western Gulls who have “found a place to roost for the night, or perhaps stage before continuing on to a communal roost nearby.”

“Is there anything particularly spellbinding about the setting sun to them?” I asked.

“Not that I can think of,” he replied.

Tyler must have sensed my disappointment, for he then inquired whether the wind would be coming from that direction.

“Oh yes, the wind is coming off The Pacific Ocean alright,” I assured him.

“Roosting gulls often point themselves into the wind,” Tyler explained. Then added, “Doesn’t mean they can’t also be sun-worshippers!”