Civil twilght photo
Civil twilight. Photo by P. Vankevich

Editor’s note: This story is revised from a previous post.

Text and photos by Peter Vankevich

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 year. 

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 with the dolphins and sanderlings moving back and forth.  If you head in the direction of the village, you will see, as the sun lowers, that it will appear to grow larger as it meets the horizon and then disappear.  It is also possible  watch the sun set from Springer’s Point, which has a bench facing distant Portsmouth Island.

One of my favorite nature books is The Winter Beach, by Charlton Ogburn, Jr., a former high-level State Department official and who wrote  a first-person account of the Burma Campaign in World War II titled The Marauders. 

The Winter Beach chronicles a journey in 1964. Ogburn started in September at Maine’s Acadia National Park and headed south along the mostly deserted coast. It is written in a reflective manner reminiscent of Henry Thoreau. The journey includes spending time on Ocracoke and ends in Florida. Late afternoon walks bring out the Ogburn/Thoreau in me.

Regarding this column’s title, to what do we attribute the civility of our topic?

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.

As you see in the photo, this civil twilight can create a beautiful ambient light that is well-known to both artists and photographers.

So, the next time someone asks whether in late afternoon if it is a civil time to do something such as a walk on the beach, think pleasant thoughts of Ocracoke’s wonderful light.

Pre-civil twilight sunset on the Irvin Garrish highway, Ocracoke. Photo by P. Vankevich
Pre-civil twilight sunset on the Irvin Garrish Highway, Ocracoke. Photo by P. Vankevich


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