I guided my fourteen foot Pisgah kayak across the large back bay of Brush Creek, winding my way around the narrow, Blue Heron-laden outlet towards the Cumberland River. I’m used to the late evening light there, as I frequent that paddle most weeks. But on this evening, I noticed a beautiful earth-toned hue leaking through the trees and painting the eastern banks a Mars-like reddish brown. The creek passage out to the main river took on a breath-taking aura, almost otherworldly.
It only took another few minutes to reach the opening inlet at the Cumberland River. A few hard paddle strokes and I glided out into the middle barge lanes, and that’s when I saw it. It was a perfectly round sun, brilliantly orange, but still quite easy to stare at without the associated melting of the corneas. I remember thinking to myself how lucky I was to see that particular sunset. I have seen a lifetime’s worth of memorable setting suns around the globe, but this one I remember thinking was special. It was so striking that I felt it must be a harbinger of good luck or a reflection of mankind’s better than expected karma.
Sometimes things aren’t what they seem. We’re all taught or have at least incidentally learned that harsh lesson. Love, passion, pain, and the concepts of right and wrong are at times obfuscated by the intricacies of what is shadowed behind what we so desperately want to be obvious. Even the most sentinel of objects in our orbit, like the stars, the moon and the planets, may not always appear as they truly are.
In this case, the stunning sunset was the result of massive southern Saskatchewan wildfires shooting white ash 10,000 feet into the air and acting like a photographer’s dream filter. Well, there you go – forest destruction and air pollution never looked so inspiring. This moment was not my first, and most likely will not be my last lesson in the world not being what I need it to be. Simplicity is often a more complicated art than first recognized. In music and life, that which appears as uniformly beautiful may be built on the backs of far more dubious precipitants. A heart touching ballad, with inspired signature licks and vocals, often springs forth from great loss or sadness. And so it goes. Sometimes the resulting beauty balances out the hurtful and the ugly, but other times, it merely makes palatable what should not be.
Some degree of inner peace requires that beauty be taken at face value, but to do so all the time, seems a perilous luxury. There are beautiful faces and loving hearts in the world. There are songs that serve as the soundtrack to conscience and books that perfectly reflect it. There are paintings truly worth a thousand words and millisecond moments when the cosmos allows us a glimpse at the bigger picture. But our good fortune is not uniformly free, because sometimes, a soul-stirring orange sun can come from Canadian fires.