Holiday issue 2011
Text and Photo by Peter Vankevich

Civil Twilight PS IMG_0288

This is the time of the year that my poetic/ romantic side leads me to write not about a spe­cies of interest but rather a mood or atmosphere. There is something about the crisp cool air and the late-day light that brings out the island’s beauty and makes this –late fall to early winter- my fa­vorite time of the seasons. If you want to get away on your own, it doesn’t take much to find your own piece of the beach for a solitary walk keeping in step with the rhythmic breaking waves or perhaps the dolphins moving back and forth.

If you head in the direction of the village, you will see as the sun lowers it will appear to grow larger as it meets the horizon then disappear. Another nice loca­tion for sunsets is Springer’s Point which now has a nice bench placed in the direction of distant Portsmouth Island.

One of my favorite nature books is by Charlton Ogburn, Jr. entitled The Winter Beach which chronicles a journey begun in late 1964 starting in Maine’s Acadia National Park and heading south along the coast, including a stop on Oc­racoke, to Florida.

Regarding this column’s title, to what do we attribute the civility of our topic? In spite of the romanticism that this time of the day/year this evokes in me, “civil” is actu­ally a semi-scientific term. Twilight – or to resurrect an archaic term, gloaming- oc­curs between sunset and dusk and later between dawn and sunrise when the sur­face of the earth is neither completely lit nor completely dark.

Irvin Garrish sunset PS IMG_0661
Irvin Garrish Highway

At this time, the sun it­self is not directly visible be­cause it is below the horizon. As you see in the photo, this indirect sunlight can create a beautiful ambient light that has been well-known by both artists and photographers. With the day’s journey into night, there are actually three successive established subcat­egories which are: civil twilight (when the horizon and distant objects are still clearly vis­ible), nautical twilight (when navigation via the horizon at sea is still possible), and astronomical twilight (when sailors must rely on the stars and planets). Civil twilight is defined to begin in the morn­ing, and to end in the evening when the center of the Sun is geometrically from zero to six degrees below the horizon.

So the next time someone asks whether it is a civil time to do something, think pleas­ant thoughts of Ocracoke’s wonderful light.

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