Quest for the Green Flash

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A flourish of trumpets. Not a grand entrance, think a quest, like King Arthur from the most Holy Grail of Monty Python. The holy grail in this case is the green flash. It’s one of those things you can wait your whole life for and never see, like Mercury or a full solar eclipse.

The Tale of the Fog.


It’s summer. It’s hot. There is not a cloud in the sky. If I’m going to hike, I’m going to hike on the beach. I figure if I time it right, I might be able to catch a sunset. So I pick up my son and drive over to Torrey Pines. Instead of finding clear skies and a sunset, we find fog and high tide. The fog is so thick it is night time in the day. Instead of pelican’s plunging into the ocean for fish, I see phantoms in the shadows dive-bombing into the unknown. Creepy crustaceans with big black eyes coat the sandy walls of the cliffs, which we are forced up against as the waves of the high tide lap at our legs. The murky fog is a minimalist dream, if only for some more light.

A man passes asking me if I know if it is the high tide. It most definitely is high tide. But he is heading south into the rocks and cliffs. He wants to know if it is THE high tide. I don’t know. I would have thought that high tide occurs when the moon is straight overhead or at the exact opposite side, but it is not so, this is only true in a perfect spherical world, one of all water. Alas, the tides know no table and the world is not perfect. Landmasses and other effects determine the exact times. THE high tide is still to come in about an hour but three hours ahead of midnight about the time I would expect the full moon to be straight overhead.

The Tale of the Mountain View

Fog Bank

I hiked up this rather steep trail before to a ridgeline from which I discovered you can see the Pacific Ocean in spots before. I thought it would be a great spot to catch a sunset, particularly if the sunset lines up with views to the Pacific. I made it a point to return.

So suffering from acute cabin fever on an off Friday from work, I decide about an hour before sunset to see if I can’t hike up the mountain and score a few pictures. Because of the steepness of the trail, the lack of anything remotely resembling traction on the bottom of my shoes, and dusty, slippery, grain-sized granite, I bring my hiking poles with. In my mind, I glide to the top like a cross-country skier with the intensity of an Olympic champion. In reality, I am fast enough to make it to the top with about fifteen minutes to spare before sunset.

I find a decent rock to take pics from, but I can see the huge cloudbank covering the coast dashing my dreams of the sun dropping into water and its yellow-orange tail following it over the horizon. I set up the iPhone for a timelapse setting of the sun, admire the deepening colors of the golden hour, and snap a few pictures. A fog bank and a sunset have their own charms.

On the trip back, in the blue hour, I say hi to a pretty girl walking a dog who admired my walking poles, watch bats dart across the trail, and follow an owl as it glides silently in front of me. No pictures of any of them. Not sure how I would do that anyway. Skittish girls, flitting bats, and gliding owls, never listen to my requests to stay still long enough to take a picture in the dark.

So, what does that say about me and the times that the highlight of my day is escaping the confines of my house for a sunset on a Friday evening? When I later checked the pics, I discovered a hint of green in the sliver of the sun as it disappeared into the fog bank. The green flash? Okay, not quite but definitely caught some green. An image of the Holy Grail hovering over a castle in the distance.

The Tale of the Most Holy Grail

After a five-mile hike up and down the beach from Torrey Pines to Dog Beach in Del Mar, the sun drops out from behind a purple cloud curtain, not quite the eye of god poking through an opening in the clouds, but nevertheless, an impressive game of peekaboo. As the sun reasserts itself, surfers ply their trade in the foreground in a mild surf, fishermen troll the shallow waters for surf fish, and shorebirds plunder the plentitude of sand crabs.

No sooner then the sun pops out from behind one curtain it begins dropping behind another. The red-orange ball of fusion morphs from a full sphere to the outlines of an exploding earthly fusion bomb to a blip. The blip doesn’t disappear over the horizon, it turns green, fades, and disappears into a point just above the horizon.

The green flash. The most Holy Grail of sunsets. This is the real deal. A life long quest satisfied. I see it. I have a witness. I have a picture. It really exists.

I admit it is not a great picture. But that is how it goes with mythological creatures. Ask the Bigfoot photographer. Ask the Loch Ness monster photographer.

The quest is not at an end, only a beginning, now that I know it is real. You never know. I know I can see it again even if it takes another sixty years. I will be looking for it or die trying. Besides, what else am I going to do on a Friday night?

Sunset Pics.

Torrey Pines.