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A Season of Sunsets Over the Salish Sea — Part 1

Updated: Jun 30, 2021

Living within a few minutes drive to the Salish Sea, repeat visits to the same beach enable us to experience the endless combinations of colors, clouds, and tides.


Between high and low tide in summer, shortly after a red sun dropped below the horizon, a thin band of stratus clouds picks up the magenta color as the sea reflects the blue of the sky above. Looking west towards Pt. Roberts and the San Juan Islands. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes



A couple of years ago, Nancy and I moved to the furthest northwest corner of the United States. Bordered to the north and south by two bays, it is a short drive on the narrow peninsula between them to the Salish Sea. As it has for so many others in the last eight months, our travel has been severely limited by the pandemic, so we return frequently to the nearby coast to walk and photograph.


Later summer in this area sees little rain. The clouds at that time of year—if there are any—are not especially photogenic. With the arrival of fall. there's a more interesting mix of clouds and sun. By winter, heavy cloud cover is the rule and the sun rarely makes an appearance. While it is always good to walk along the coast, photography is best in the fall and winter months.



Late summer, looking west. The islands normally visible from here are obscured by haze from the smoke of huge wildfires in Oregon and California. Wisps of darker smoke, resembling smudges on the photo, are visible in the upper right. Photo : © Donald J. Rommes


We look at the tide tables. of course, to know what to expect. The sea floor is gently sloped in the area, so the water remains quite shallow for a distance. With the larger tides, a couple hundred yards of sandy bottom are revealed and concealed.


I have a preference for low tide at sunset, when the sandy seafloor is uncovered and regular ripples are formed by the stepwise retreat of the water. It is also a time where large pools of water can reflect the colors of the sunset sky.


Nancy prefers higher tides and a cleaner foreground.



During low tide, the undulating topography of the sandy seafloor mimics the lapping tide-driven waves that created them. Ridges are rendered golden by the setting sun while the water-filled troughs reflect the bluish early evening sky. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes



In the summer of last year, hundreds of wildfires in British Columbia created a pall of smoke that dirtied our skies for more than a month. This year, the disastrous wildfires of California and Oregon have sullied the skies and cast an orange light on the sea and the landscape.


Air quality was very bad and people were advised to stay indoors on the worst days. But the summer sunsets were more colorful than usual.



Smoke from wildfires in California and Oregon sullied our air this summer, filtering the sunlight and casting everything in orange-brown light. In this photograph, the normally-visible islands to the west are obscured by the haze, the sun is veiled, and even the ocean seems viscous. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes



Most scientists seem to think that the frequent and disastrous wildfires we have been experiencing in the West are one consequence of Global Warming—which itself is a consequence of human activity. Imperceptible on a day-to-day basis, climate change is noticeable over the course of a human lifetime—which is remarkably fast for a world-wide natural phenomenon.


Icecaps are melting, sea levels are rising, weather events are being amplified, and parts of the planet are being rendered uninhabitable for animals and humankind alike. Large-scale migrations are slowly underway as life searches for more hospitable dwelling places.


The earth is known to have undergone at least five great mass extinctions of life during its 5 billion-year history. Mass extinctions are those that result in the extinction of over 75% of all species. While these extinctions are abrupt from a geologic time perspective, they occurred over a timespan of tens of thousands of years or longer.


Many scientists are convinced that we are in the middle of the sixth great extinction. This event is linked to the expansion of humankind and recently from climate-change-related rising CO2 levels since the industrial revolution. This so-called sixth extinction event is happening at breakneck speed compared to past events. But from a human perspective, it is barely noticeable.

The bad news is that we are like frogs in a pot of water that is slowly being heated to boiling. We won't notice until it's too late. The good news is that we may be getting many more great sunsets in the future.


In late summer, a storm swept through the region, bringing rain and wind and carrying away the smoky air. This photograph shows the clearing storm from the vantage point of Birch Bay. Clicking the photo will take you to its location on our companion, commercial website—Iris Arts. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

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