After the purple sunset

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October 5 seems like such a long time ago. On that date, I had high hopes for Northwestern’s football team, which was unbeaten and ranked in the national polls.

I had written an exuberant piece for Five Wide Sports a few days earlier, about how it wasn’t 1989 anymore for the two sports teams I truly care about. The Chicago Cubs were losing, but the Northwestern football team was winning. The latter helped to take my mind off of the former, and it was a tradeoff I was glad to make.

And then, just before Northwestern played Ohio State in a nationally-televised game in primetime, the skies opened up and it started to pour. I wasn’t tailgating at the time, but the thousands who were probably got soaked in the process.

I mention this because afternoon rain showers can lead to some interesting sunsets. I saw it when I was in Door County, Wisconsin last summer. An afternoon cloudburst led to a green and brown sunset that I hope I’ll never forget. And the rain before the football game on October 5 also led to a unique sunset. But this was a portentous Northwestern purple, or at least it seemed that way to me.

I was driving around in Evanston when I saw it, on my way to the game and trying to find a place to park. There was a buzz in the air, because the rains were gone and it was going to be time for football soon. There were lots of Ohio State fans dressed in scarlet red, but there was a lot of Northwestern purple on display, too. And nature had seemed to decide the matter in the Wildcats’ favor.

The picture above probably shouldn’t have been taken in the first place, as I was trying to drive in a crowded situation at the same time. And it doesn’t really doesn’t do the scene justice, either. You can see purple here if you want to see purple. But to me, the purple was impossible to miss.

After a parking snafu, I finally found a place to park the car, and my daughter and I went to the stadium to watch the game. Northwestern played Ohio State close right up to the end, and lost when they couldn’t flea-flicker their way to a miracle finish. Clearly, the purple sunset hadn’t meant what I thought it did.

Northwestern went into a tailspin after the Ohio State game, and they haven’t won a game since then. They have one get left, against Illinois on Saturday. I hope they win this game, at least, to avoid the indignity of a winless season in the Big Ten. It won’t be the first time that has happened, of course, but once upon a time such losing ways were expected. This year’s collapse was completely unforeseen.

The purple sunset turned out to have a far different meaning than I had imagined. And the postseason bowl scene won’t have Northwestern involved, for the first time in a while. I’ll miss that part of the holidays, for sure, but then again it’s only a football team.

There are more important things in the world, as this year’s tornadoes in central Illinois have made abundantly clear. There are more than false omens that can come from the skies. If disappointment with my alma mater’s football team is all I have to feel bad about, I’ve got a very good life, indeed.

The fall of day

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The title for this post comes from a drawing by William Rimmer. It was the inspiration for the Swan Song Records logo, and was the sort of thing that I read about once and never forgot. It’s funny what sticks with you and what doesn’t.

As I get older, my appreciation for sunsets gets ever greater. Thoreau once described sunsets as the work of “the Great Artist” and I like that term. Humans can create whatever they want, but nature will always be the standard for exquisite beauty.

As I write this, I realize that I am–as Pink Floyd once observed–one day (and one sunset) closer to death. One day I’ll run out of sunsets to enjoy, and old rock songs to quote. And until that happens, I’ll be sure to realize how incredibly lucky we all are to be here.

With fresh curiosity

I picked this book up recently at a book exchange in Chicago. In a case of judging a book by its cover, I decided that something this psychedelic deserved to be seen by anyone who would be interested. It’s a magenta background, with the word “Diaries” written in a green and a yellow font, and reflected across one another horizontally. You can see it if you look for it, but otherwise it’s just a trippy mess.

The book was a reading program, apparently aimed at high school students, published by Houghton Mifflin (now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) in 1973. But there are some interesting stories inside, and the most interesting of all–from my perspective, at least–is a series or writings from the Journal of Henry David Thoreau. Since sunsets have been a frequent topic discussed in this space, I’m including an entry from January 7, 1852:

“We never tire of the drama of sunset. I go forth each afternoon and look into the west a quarter of an hour before sunset, with fresh curiosity, to see what new picture will be painted there, what new panorama exhibited, what new dissolving views. Can Washington Street or Broadway ever show anything as good? Each day a new picture is painted and framed, held up for half an hour, in such lights as the Great Artist chooses, and then withdrawn, and the curtain falls…”

I couldn’t describe a sunset any better than Thoreau does. But that won’t keep from trying, every chance that I get.