Sunrise, Sunset … So Swiftly Flow the Days

I’ve never hugged my neighbor, the farmer. Perhaps I should reconsider now I’ve realized that my 78th summer will have an Eastern horizon, one open to both colorful dawns and a rising sun. He has planted soy rather than ethanol, meaning my horizon won’t be hidden behind 12 to 14 ft. tall corn plants for the rest of summer and fall through harvest. What a fine and unexpected blessing.

Perhaps my greatest joy in living here at Listening Stones Farm is having views of a horizon for both the sunrises and sunsets. I love both, and love how they bookend a fine day. Although I’m generally not a fan of musicals, the hallmark song, “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof, has resonated with me simply because of the choruses:

Sunrise, sunset

Sunrise, sunset

Swiftly flow the days

Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers

Blossoming even as we gaze

Sweet, isn’t it? Granted, I view more sunrises come fall through spring than I do in the summer although it’s nice being able to see the line of trees on the flip side of this quarter section even on the “Midsummer Solstice.” To be clear, I do see the sunrises in summer … not just as many of them. Often times I’ll note the ambient colors of a new dawn and walk into the prairie or take off with my camera for a tree, prairie or wetland I’ve somehow placed in my mental “database” to feature in what I hope is a stunning image. Remember, I hold only a camera. Same holds true of the sunsets. Colors that are never predictable, displayed on clouds rarely duplicated, painted on early morning and late evening landscapes and nature. So swiftly flow the days!

A sunrise toward the east from my prairie … while below, a sunset toward the west …

Those fine moments of special color and light reminds me of what a fortunate place to live, this last bastion of our glacial blessings, for there remains remnants of the mostly depreciated prairie pothole biome. Some are large, shallow lakes, of which we are blessed with numerous ones to the east across U.S. 75. Less than 100 years ago the potholes, or wetlands (some call them “sloughs” although that word is too close in both pronunciation and image to “slum” for me) numbered in the millions, beginning at the Glacial Ridge down to the loess bluffs region of NW Iowa. Now there are but a few thousand, and in some of the prairie pothole counties there might be but one or two scattered across an entire “black desert”, tucked away from sight and promised cropping land. 

Those wetlands make for beautiful mirrored images of the rising and setting sun, and in many instances are blessed with willows and other trees that may add interest and dimension to an image. Yet, just sauntering through my prairie or an oak savanna, all part of a rather unique and mostly obliterated geological offering to mankind that provides other elements to photograph. Birds, forbs, deer and damselflies all come to mind, all part of such a wonderful blessing. 

A tipster allerted me to a nearby wetland where a swan family had settled, making for a nice sunrise image.

A few evenings ago I again headed to the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge, this time in search of the blooming of the rare ball cacti hidden and embedded in the roughened and craggy gneiss outcrops. There was just enough of the “Monet light” remaining to provide some drama to the few images of rare forbs I captured, and yet it was early enough to be blessed with the ambient backdrop of colors so often painting the clouds. Blooming even as we gaze!

While I couldn’t find the blossoms on the cacti, there were some blooms on plants common to this very rare and barely surviving ecosystem left behind by time — an ecosystem indigenous to an eon long passed and mostly unseen. Then, on the way home as the sun was setting, a beautiful purple painted the sky behind a pair of roosting wild turkeys, then several moments later, a vivid orange graced the sky behind a trio of trees on a ridge above Big Stone Lake, a ridge created by the Glacial River Warren when the ice floe dam of the humongous Lake Agassiz broke free just a few miles north in at what is now the small town of Browns Valley ­— the geological event responsible for the near desert-like ecosystem tucked within the outcrops.

And, on the drive home a bonus sunrise image of a foggy Stony Creek.

This was just a week after I rose at 5 a.m. to follow a tip of a swan family with a newly hatched brood of cygnets in a nearby wetland. I arrived just as the sun rose to capture them in a beautiful orange-ish glow spread across stilled waters. Then, as a bonus on the way home, I found a fog rising above a beautiful bend of Stony Creek just east of Ortonville. Although neither was of my home horizon, this was special nonetheless. Admittedly, sometimes these home horizons are invitations to promises beyond. 

Ah, but my home horizon! Hundreds of sunrise images have come from within my prairie in all seasons, and in multitudes of colors and light, and each time I believe what I’ve captured can never be topped. Until the next sunrise. The same may be said of sunsets, from capturing them alive with curtains of smoke from western wildfires to those clear and cheerfully painted by our rapidly escaping star … our sun. One season following another!

A sunset image of a dragonfly in a bluestem prairie …

Many of us have heard the arguments of those living in coastal Florida boasting of the most picturesque sunrises on their eastern shore versus those who claim there are no better sunsets anywhere than those crossing the Gulf on the western shore. I’ve witnessed both and can lay claim that neither can touch either the sunrises or sunsets here on the prairie, and from my horizons, in opposite directions, allow these nearly daily magical palettes of unequaled color to appear. Time after time, one season following another.

So sing it, brothers and sisters! Sing it loud and clear:

Sunrise, sunset

Sunrise, sunset

Swiftly fly the years

One season following another

Laiden with happiness and tears

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About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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