Heading home last night, along Princes Street’s east-west axis. By five pm in the Scottish winter it has already been dark for sometime. Looking straight down Princes Street to the west however, framed by the buildings, is a rapidly diminishing slice of glowing red skyline. Everything else was in darkness already, the Castle lit softly by floodlights, standing sentinel over the city as it has always done. But this small section of horizon… The three spires of Saint Mary’s were silhouetted perfectly against the blood red sky; a bar of copper and vermilion against the blackness of the winter night. Utterly gorgeous.
Racing on westwards, the diminishing vision of light was rushing over the rest of the land, casting red shadows over the hallowed ground of Bannockburn, washing the ancient stone blocks of Stirling Castle. The extinct volcanoes of the Campsie Hills reflect a final glow of copper before nightfall as the setting sun passes over my parent’s home on the outskirts of Glasgow. The Clyde, where once many of the greatest ships in the world came to life gleams like a river of copper in the twilight. The sun follows the river’s course out over the Western Isles. Dipping past beautiful Arran, the magnificent Cuillins of Sky, imparting a final burst of warmth and light over the tombs of the early kings on Iona, the home of Celtic Christianity before speeding on over the Irish sea, leaving the Callanish Standing Stones of Lewis outlined against the burning sky.
That same sunset moves onwards relentlessly, over deep water trawlers in the cold Atlantic, passing over the glaciers of Greenland until it reaches the shores of Newfoundland and the New World, reflecting over rocks identical to those it left behind on the Scottish coast, rocks separated millions of years before when the continents went on their own ways, joined now only by the seas and the skies and by those who came form the Old to the New. It passes over the Great Lakes, like a vast inland sea and across the mighty Rockies, running across the land like the spine of the great continent. Lights come on to light up Lady Liberty as New York slips into night. The sunset crosses states in minutes, turning the corn fields of Iowa from gold to red and then to soft darkness. It outlines the Golden Gate Bridge, turned true gold in the reflected sunset as it leaves the Americas and spreads of the great Pacific Ocean.
The volcanic Hawaiian Islands meet the sunset and the hula dancers leave the beaches to the party goers. Further on the Land of the Rising Sun greets the setting star. Snows on Mount Fuji are coloured salmon pink as Tokyo’s streets light up in neon.
The terminator’s shadow crosses the vast lands of Asia, covering ancient kingdoms in a soft blanket of velvet night. The Great Wall slips into darkness, then the great desert beyond where once the caravans travelled between the lands. The sun sets across the palaces of the Mughals of India and touches the sacred summits of the Himalayas as they hold up the roof of the sky. Darkness enfolds the sands and deltas of the Arabian Peninsula, cradle of all human civilization. Shadows cross the ruins where Gilgamesh once walked. Africa meets the end of the day with roars and cries. Dark-adapted eyes of tigers and lions glow in the gathering gloom as they have for thousands of years.
The setting sun has passed over the whole of our diverse globe until it magically transforms itself into the rising sun. It passes over the olive fields of Greece and warms decorated walls of Venice. Eiffel’s engineering wonder greets the new sun in Paris. Its light reaches back to these isles, casting shadows over the temple of Stonehenge and it reaches back here, to Edinburgh. It comes across the cold, North Sea, lighting on the surf as it passes up the Forth. Arthur’s Seat is outlined against the rising sun, a great rock sculpture made by the glaciers long gone, the golden light spreading across the Crags and touching the city itself, passing behind the ridge of the Old Town and rising slowly in an arc. The mists in the valley of the Gardens start to break up, swirling around trees and the base of Castle Rock.
This happens everyday of every year for millennia after millennia, the same sunset and sunrise touches each and every human soul on the planet. It has passed over family homes and pyramids, mountains and seas. How can the simple orbital mechanics of a few rotating spheres be so incredibly beautiful to our eyes?