Jon Shaw's Best Sunsets

Written by  Jon Shaw

He first occurred when I was the ripe old age of 17. I had just finished school and was taking on the world. And this consisted of working in a Roadhouse in the middle of the Nullarbor Plain; a small place with a population of 17.

I was employed to pump petrol, empty rubbish bins, paint signposts and weed the airstrip (yes, I actually did that!); kind of ado-the-jobs-that-nobody-else-wants-to-do job. This roadhouse was situated pretty well exactly on the border of South Australia and Western Australia on the main highway, the Eyre Highway, that connects Perth to the rest of the country, and, in fact, the world. We were about 5km inland and situated at the western most end of the astounding Nullarbor cliffs: 300 feet of sheer rock face that plummet vertically to the surf below, and extends like a billiard table to the horizon the other way. Being a roadhouse, we were besieged my the monstrous road trains that ply the routes with all manner of goods, shipping things furiously from A to B and then back again with monotonous regularity, and we were quite well known along the route as a good place to stop. However, to make sure that we actually attracted people, they had built a rather imposing sign, some 15 stories high, announcing to the approaching world that we were in fact here, and if you felt like stopping, this might be a good place. This sign was also neon lit, and in my list of jobs, it was included that should a bulb need changing, I was the very man for the job. Needless to say I became somewhat adept at scaling the ladder with a fluorescent tube nestled between my pubescent teeth.

And it was on one of these vertical sojourns that I undertook at dusk, that I witnessed the spectacle of nature’s finest. When you are 15 stories above the Nullarbor plain, and there is not a single sound to be heard for miles, and the sun dips graciously below the extended horizon, you kind of want to commit that moment to memory. The sky was massive, streaked with the wisps of jetstream, and gently pulped with the odd ball of cotton wool, and before my eyes, I saw the sky change from the fierce blue of the day to the intoxicating light that is the Nullarbor night. It seemed as if all the colours in the world wanted to have a look at his sight so they were all jostling for position, and I watched them all pass before my eyes in a matter of minutes. If you can ever procure a photograph of that sky from that sign, it will surely be up there with all the rest.

The second great sunset, I have already committed to paper, and my short description is copied below. This one occurred in Tasmania along the winding road from Port Arthur to Hobart. I stopped by a lake and quite simply was unable to conjure up any words to describe it.

The sun was thinking about retiring, so I joined it in its thoughts. Recalling the names of the places I wished to stop along the way, I retraced. What I now discovered was that as we were surrounded by hills, the sun, this solar supplier of things toasty, was now behind most of them, and had selfishly taken its heat with it. It got cold. Nowhere near the arctic conditions of the first jaunt off the ferry, but cool enough. I stopped at the Tasman Blowhole, which like all blowholes the world over (a small natural hole carved from the rock by the relentless pounding of the sea, through which waves supposedly shoot skyward) steadfastly refused to blow. Maybe it’s just me, but I have visited many natural things all called blowholes, and I have been singularly disappointed each time in the complete lack of any blowing action whatsoever. But I tried it again, hoping to prove my depressing theory false. But it wasn't to be. The Tasman Arch was exactly that: an arch carved through a cliff face, and the Tessellated Pavement proved to be marginally more fascinating: a geological anomaly in which perfect squares appear to be etched in a flat rock base through movements of the various plates on which we are seated.

But the masterpiece was to come. I began noticing the sky changing colours as the sun began its daily retirement. I stopped next to a stretch of water and watched the most amazing sunset I have ever seen. The sky changed colour so quickly I found it hard to keep up. Deep reds morphing to purple, brightly reflected off stringy clouds that seemed to hang in the air in the same manner that bricks don’t. I stood transfixed for an undetermined period of time, solitary, fascinated. Again, my Lennon-McCartney issue (see below) joined me and I very successfully failed to discover any words to accurately represent this sight. So I packed up the sunset, took it with me as well, and returned to the road.

The Lennon-McCartney reference may need some explaining so here it is. This was all taken from a journal that I wrote after the week-long motorcycle trip around Tasmania in 2006 I believe.

For years, I have had a theory. That everything in the world comes into two characteristics. And so far, I have yet to be proven wrong. Now these characteristics, traits, call them what you will are diametric opposites: the yin and yang, black and white, Lennon and McCartney, good and evil, John Smith and Pocahontas.. You get the idea. One characteristic is Science: clinical, exact, educational, quantifiable in every way. The other is Art, emotional, expressive, beautiful, appreciative. And here is my dilemma: I experienced beauty, appreciated life and fought emotions, all things falling under the Art banner. And now I am trying to quantify and describe them using words, grammar and facts under the Science banner. You see my problem. Never the twain shall meet, and yet writers, musicians and artists the world over throughout time have been trying to do the same. Using only words to describe beauty that makes your heart sing, or trying to use mere words to describe the passion and heart stirring feeling that is love. Sure, there are astounding adjectives for all seasons, but you will never be able to write and accurately describe an emotion. The reason it can’t be done is simple: feelings and love is Art, and words are Science. Never the twain shall meet. So in essence, this is going to be a pathetic attempt to evoke emotions that only I felt, by using the very public forum of the majesty of words. And if that doesn’t make any sense, I really don’t care!

So there you have it. Hope you find the best sunset in the world, and when you do, please let me know. I shall be there, camera in tow with a complete absence of words.

The World's Best Sunsets

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