Green Pages

Sunsets and Island Time

A perfect pairing.

Story & Photos By Ben Farmer, Waterfront Assistant, The School for Field Studies

“Is it pretty tonight—the sunset?”

“I’ve never seen a bad one.”

This is a dialogue between two characters in Carl Hiaasen’s novel Skinny Dip. One character, Joey, is temporarily blind after a harrowing experience at sea, and Stranahan is describing the evening Florida Keys scenery to her. The concise acknowledgment by Stranahan that he has never seen a bad sunset is a concept that stuck with me. I began the book while living and working in the Turks & Caicos Islands and ever since then, I have been much more aware of the sunsets that the TCI has to offer.

Sunset viewing is a popular custom around the world, especially in areas near the water. Crowds gather for drum circles on the beaches of Tel Aviv, Israel; sunset torch lightings and conch-blowing ceremonies are held on Honolulu beaches in the United States; Hindu people make pilgrimages to Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India, where the sun sets over the confluence of three seas. Film-makers have long used sunsets to portray emotion in films and for good reason. The very nature of viewing a sunset is romantic and speaks to humans on an innate level—it marks a satisfying, deep conclusion to the day.

Sunsets mark a satisfying conclusion to the end of the day.

In my experience, sunsets have a unique power to bring people together. When I worked at The School for Field Studies (SFS) on South Caicos, I saw it happen with two different semesters of students. Gathering for sunsets became a nightly ritual, treated with excitement and respect. For some of us, this was an intentional commitment. For instance, we had a student who never missed a sunset in her time on South. For others, sunset-watching was a sort of unspoken routine.

“When the sun has set, no candle can replace it.” ~ George R.R. Martin

Sunsets invoke a sense of awe and ultimately, this is what gives them the power to bring people together. Research shows that people feel more patient, satisfied with life and willing to volunteer time for others after experiencing the emotion of awe. Additionally, awe expands our concept of time, making us feel that we have more time available in our lives. Considering the many awe-inspiring natural moments that happen daily in the TCI, perhaps scientists would consider “island time” as more than merely a saying.

Light plays an essential role in many of such natural phenomena: sunsets, rainbows, mirages and even green flashes. But what is the science behind these beautiful tricks of the light?

There are many excellent locations on South Caicos to witness a beautiful TCI sunset.

There are a few unseen phenomena that allow you to watch a sunset. To understand them, first consider how humans perceive light generally. Light travels in a straight line and only deviates from that path if an object, such as a tiny molecule or particle, gets in its way. When we look up at the sky during the day, we see blue. This is because as the light from the sun enters Earth’s atmosphere, nitrogen and oxygen molecules are in the light’s way. Light hits these molecules and then scatters in many different directions. All of the colors of the rainbow, which make up the light spectrum, are scattered. However, blue and violet light have the shortest wavelengths and highest frequencies, so they are scattered most intensely by nitrogen and oxygen molecules. If that were all though, we would simply see purple-ish skies all the time. We see blue skies because human eyes are not able to perceive the violet hue in a combination of blue and violet, and instead we see just a mixture of pure blue and white light —or simply, blue.

As the sun approaches the horizon, the angle of the sun relative to your vantage point on Earth changes. This mean that light rays must travel farther through the atmosphere to reach your eyes. Blue light scatters out by this point, and the colors with longer wavelength—yellows, oranges, and pinks—fill the horizon. Some of the most vibrant red sunsets in the world are found in Hawaii, due in part to the large amount of volcanic dust in the atmosphere as well as high humidity there, which intensify the scattering effect. In the Caribbean, red sunsets can result from huge dust plumes coming in from the Sahara Desert, as they did this past summer.

Rainbows are visible due to refraction within raindrops and subsequent reflection between them.

Rainbows, ocean mirages and green flashes are all caused by different forms of scattering, or refraction, as well. Rainbows are visible due to refraction within raindrops and subsequent reflection between them (but only when rainclouds don’t block the light, such as right after a rainstorm subsides), and mirages create the illusion of floating islands on the horizon due to scattering between layers of air with different temperatures. Green flashes, one of the most revered and elusive phenomena on Earth, are sometimes visible with very clear conditions. A combination of the mirage effect and the sun dipping below the horizon bring about this otherworldly sight.

       The common theme with each of these phenomena is that light bends in fantastic ways to produce an image that humans can witness. Sunsets, however, are the most reliable and can almost always be planned for—especially when you are on island time. Darrell’s Sunset Cafe, Cox Hotel and East Bay Resort are all excellent locations on South Caicos to see the beautiful oranges, pinks and purples of a TCI sunset.

     I worked on South Caicos for only a year, but that year has left an indelible impact. My coworkers became some of my closest friends, the community welcomed us with open arms, and we embraced island time wholeheartedly. From the high school basketball tournaments, to the Christmas tree lighting ceremony, to the lively Saturdays that included community swim lessons and marine crafts at SFS, there was always a sense of strong community and well-being. That feeling became even clearer every time we settled in for another sunset together.

“Never waste any amount of time doing anything important when there is a sunset outside that you should be sitting under!” ~ C. JoyBell C.

For additional information about The School for Field Studies, visit www.fieldstudies.org or contact us on South Caicos at hhertler@fieldstudies.org.



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On the Cover

Agile LeVin—photographer, explorer and chronicler of everything TCI on his website www.visittci.com—took this drone photo of the multi-textured wetlands of West Caicos. He was part of the expedition that investigated the site of the historic pirate attack in the area. For more information and photos, go to page 48.

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