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The Phenomenon of the Green Flash at Sunset

Walking became my form of exercise when we moved to Summit House. In the mornings I walked to the Post Office to get our mail. In the evenings I did what I call the Ruby Loop....Up to Rubenstein, Loop back to Summit via the Rubenstein Place (circle) and then North on Rubenstein Drive and back to Summit again. It was the best route to avoid vicious dogs, see the best coastal views and the people were friendly.

One evening in particular I noticed several people out on their evening walks just stopped in their tracks and faced west when it was time for sunset. I would smile, wave and continue walking to keep my heart rate up. I guessed that they just truly enjoyed sunsets. Wrong.

It was several weeks before I got up my nerve and asked a couple if they were enjoying the sunset.

"We’re watching for the green flash," they said smiling.

"Oh." I didn’t know what they were talking about.

Another evening I saw neighbors on their balcony.

"Enjoying the sunset?" I called to them.

"Watching for the green flash," they answered not turning back toward me at all.

Another evening walk, and I saw green balloons tied to a mail box. That seemed to be the normal way of announcing a party around our neighborhood. I wondered why they just used green balloons when it wasn’t St. Patrick’s day, but I just smiled and waved as I walked by their front deck.

"Waiting for the green flash!" they called back to me.

My curiosity got the best of me and I began asking around about the green flash phenomenon.

It seems that on an extremely clear night ... usually during the Santa Ana Season or for sure whenever you can see San Clemente Island at sunset, there is a true phenomenon known as the green flash, just as the orb of the sun sets into the far horizon.

The green flash is a great excuse to sit down on a deck chair and wait for the sunset as you watch the steaks on the barbeque or to stop and catch your breath on a walk while the last ten seconds of a bright orange sun sets into the dark blue waters of the Pacific, or grab your honey by the hand and drag them out to the balcony for a moment of quiet wonder. Or like many of our younger neighbors....as good an excuse as any to have a party!

Most folks think that the green flash is similar to snipe hunting back in the mid-west, or like the illusive grunion hunts at the beach, and if we hadn’t experienced it first hand, we might too. But, it truly happens....we’ve seen it!

So, I did a bit of research at the local library. It’s been seen for centuries even though it is thought to be a recent phenomenon.

It attracted the attention of ancient Egyptians who observed it as the sun set behind certain Libyan hills. There were also smaller effects at sunrise. It was believed then that the sun turned to green overnight. They used the word Mafkait which was a green colored mineral. (Nature - Joseph Offord - 1907). It requires a very pure atmosphere and William Corliss (Strange Phenomena) concludes that abonormal atmospheric refraction, including mirage effects, play a great part in producing the green flash.

Richie’s theory, before my research, that the retentive memory of the lens of the eye causes you to see green, the opposite of orange, when the sun (which you’ve been staring at) suddenly disappears into the water. His thoughts weren’t in any of the books I researched, so we can’t say for sure, but it certainly seemed possible to us.

There is very little written about the green flash ... but that just feed into it’s mystery!

You won’t catch the ‘flash’ in the fog, or if there’s too many clouds clustering close to the horizon. But on a crisp clear night, come on over and join us. We won’t answer the doorbell, because we’ll be frozen in time out on the deck quietly waiting for that miraculous moment. In the splendor of a coral colored sky, there’s a tiny flash of green just at the horizon. That’s when we gasp at the gift of joy at having caught that elusive happening. Granted, they’re few and far between but well worth the wait!

I rather fancy the Scottish belief that those who see it will be successful in affairs of the heart! (Weather - C. M. Botley - 1971). It sure makes you feel close to your Honey when it happens!

One of those thousand and one reasons why we retired here in Cardiff by the Sea!

Jules Verne, 1828 Le Rayon Vertor (The Green Flash) A Romance of the Scottish Highlands.

"A green which no artist could ever obtain on his palette, a green of which neither the varied tints of vegetation nor the shades of the most limpid sea could ever produce, the like of! If ever there be green in Paradise, it surely must be this true green of hope."

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