Marolt: The sun will set in the east, if you ride like crazy

Roger Marolt
Roger This

We probably have differing opinions about what is incredible. I was driving to work the other day and came around the bend in Owl Creek Road at the bottom of the hill on the quiet side of the airport.

Do you know what I saw? I could see the cable of the gondola stretching across the gap from the top of Bell Mountain up toward the top of Pussyfoot. There were no cars attached, just the bare cable. It can’t be bigger around than a beer can, and I must have been at least 31/2 miles away, and yet there it was.

I think I know the physics of it. If that cable was only 10, 20 or even 60 feet long and floating in the air that far away, there’s no way anybody could spot it. But you stretch that thing out over a quarter-mile or so, and then you have a big surface area, thin as it is, reflecting back to one small point in your eye, and voila, you can’t miss it.

I don’t believe in coincidence, so I looked for that cable every day for a week wondering why seeing it struck me. I saw it on clear, sunny days and gray, overcast ones, too. I saw it in the mornings and evenings. Maybe its visibility has something to do with persistence. A bunch of small things stretched out over a day, a week or a lifetime might get noticed eventually in the grand scheme of things as something bigger, even if every little section is noticed only by those very close by. I thought that was hopeful.

I suppose it’s all how you look at something. A few years ago, I was riding my bicycle into town from Snowmass Village early in the morning. I got to the crest of Sinclair Divide and met the sun head-on as it was coming over Red Mountain. Instantly it was warm and bright, so bright so quickly, in fact, that it was almost like you could hear it rushing to fill the vast, dark void behind. But a sunrise is an instant, so there was no point in stopping to watch it; a few seconds more, and it would be ordinary daylight. I kept moving and descended into the still-shadowed valley toward Aspen.

On a lower rise above the airport, I came across a man kneeling by the side of the bike path, fixing a flat. I stopped to see if he was making out all right on his own. He was fine, and as we talked, the sun caught up to me and came up from behind Red Mountain again.

“At least the sun is up now,” he said. The fact that it was the sunrise for him didn’t escape my notice. If this was the legitimate sunrise for him, was it the second time the sun rose in one day for me? I supposed it was. But that meant the sun had set in the east as I descended into the valley. There was no good way to argue it, so I accepted it.

The next time it happened, I was watching for it. There was no big surprise to see the sun set horizontally going south, behind the shoulder of Smuggler Mountain this time, as I rode down Main Street in Aspen, setting up to see it rise for the third time in one day as I sipped a cup of coffee on Peach’s patio 15 minutes later.

Three sunrises and two sunsets and counting in one day, and it wasn’t even 8 in the morning. Why not? I suppose if I’d turned around and ridden home at that minute, I could claim that the sun had circled me. We know the sun doesn’t really rise or set or spin around us. It’s all about relative motion and how the Earth turns and where we happen to be positioned on it at a given moment. Someday I’ll remember to check my rearview mirror when I’m driving into town over the Continental Divide right at dusk on a clear evening, and I’m pretty certain I’ll see the sun rise in the west.

Of course there is the inevitability of darkness following light in the forever pattern that someday I think we will see from a long way off, and it will be obvious from where it started and ended. In the meantime, we can manipulate it a little and make it work so that we can experience the good and beautiful more often than the numbered times it invariably will come to us if we just sit on our cans and wait.

Roger Marolt noticed yesterday that the cable is harder to see now that cars are attached to it. He wonders what that means. Contact him at roger@marolt


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