The Edge of Night in the North Woods

Boreal lake sunset.

The end of the day in the summer months can be a long, drawn out event in northern latitudes. The extended, seemingly endless twilight, on both temporal sides of the summer solstice is one our planets most beautiful sights. Before the sun begins to fall over the horizon clear skies may appear yellow turning to orange. As the sun blends into the horizon like butter melting in a hot cast iron pan the distant view may turn tangerine to fuchsia. And as the solar display wanes, as it dips below the blackened and distant edge of earth, the view can linger in all of its flamingo colored glory for hours.
On Lac Wetetnagami, a wilderness lake found within the Hudson Bay watershed in northern Quebec, clear skies often mean a tranquil lake. As a slight breeze might blister the water’s surface at the end of the day and the reflection is caught like a oil painting on textured canvas there is little one can do to adequately take all of this glory in. This experience, one I have seen over a number of years, is like being immersed into a real life painting where you are part of the picture; completely surrounded by the colors and hues of the falling sun. These boreal sunsets increase in intensity immediately after the sun succumbs to the horizon and then the light hangs on for hours as the sun stays just below the western horizon. On the longest day of the year, June the 21st in most years, night never truly finds complete darkness. There remains a hint of pink or copper light in the western skies until the sun appears again in the northeast as the next day begins anew.

There is rare beauty in these northern lake sunsets.

The back drop to the awe of these northern end-of-day experiences is equally bewildering. Loons laugh both far and near. Wolves mark a kill in the distance by howling out victory. A moose may bawl just to call out to the night. And songbirds, of nearly endless varieties, brighten the atmosphere with brilliant territorial songs that are the purest music of these north woods.
When I was young I used to sit on a hummock in a nearby kettle swamp and wonder what paradise might be like. I had no real experience to imagine how wonderful this world could be. But I did know that I felt most comfortable in wild surroundings. Now I know what paradise is, at least for this old rambler of wild places. It is wilderness, near dark, where the impact of human activity is far off in the distance, and the beauty of the natural world is close at hand. It is a summer evening sunset at 11 PM in the wild on a lake in the boreal forest. It is the edge of night where new colors are invented with each nearly everlasting sunset. It is a time for thought and reflection. But most of all a time for appreciation for what is right with our planet. It is peace, tranquility, and solitude.
It is simply beautiful.

Written for in June of 2013.

  • Emily Brisse

    Yes, yes, and yes. So beautifully said.

  • Teresa Evangeline

    I’ve never been far enough north to experience this endless but subdued daylight you describe so beautifully. The third photo down makes me feel as though I could reach down over the side of the boat or canoe and feel the water on my hand… lovely.

  • shoreacres

    The infinite variety of sunsets is something that amazes me, even here in my suburban setting. Here at my desk, I can turn my head and look to the north/northwest, and my favorite time of day is the hour of the setting sun. It doesn’t linger so long here, of course, but I’ve been noticing for the past two or three weeks the addition of lavender and yellow, turquoise and magenta to our usual reds, pinks and orange.

    I can watch the movement of the sun, too. Now, it still is behind the lighthouse. At the solstice, it set just to the east of the Hilton, above the Johnson Space Center. That’s appropriate, somehow.

    Your third photo looks so very much like our winter sky – it surprised me. And the next to last, the dark trees silhouetted against the brilliant colors and dark clouds, actually frightened me at first glance. I interpreted it as “forest fire” rather than “sunset”. The Bastrop fire is still too fresh in mind, I suppose. If I were forced to pick a favorite? It would be the blue in the middle – blue sky, blue water, blue light. It looks cool – part of its appeal for a coastal Texan in June, I’m sure.

  • Wild_Bill

    Thank you Emily. Yes, yes, yes is about as good a response as I’ll ever get!

  • Wild_Bill

    You have some rather spectacular sunsets in Minnesota, and of course you’ve seen some of the best in the southwest. But it is the wonderful length of a sunset in the boreal region and north that are so interesting, beautiful, and awe inspiring. Yes, the photo was taken from a boat on a trip to Wetetnagami with my two sons.

  • Wild_Bill

    I’m thinking sunsets are pretty spectacular every where given the right conditions. I’m sure sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico would be just beautiful. Although your days aren’t as long in the summer as the far north you have more total daylight throughout the year. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of a sunset or sunrise, can’t imagine anything more peaceful or wonderful. Thank you.

  • Montucky

    From reading your thoughts and feelings about the north woods and from your photos, I know I would feel very comfortable there. What a beautiful place! Your third photo is just exquisite, and I will think of that scene when sleep comes tonight.

  • Wild_Bill

    Thanks Montucky. My photographs pale as compared to yours, still I like photo 3, and the last one the best. Yes. You would love these areas, however, they do not include the magnificent mountains that you are so accustomed to! Happy dreams!

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