Contents - This Great Society - Issue 5, Mythology - December 2009/January 2010
Thoughts and Analysis
Fraser Martens
Seven Days, 1/60 Second
Ill-Fraser Martens

When I was 19, a freshman in university, and in love for the first time, I spent a week in Hawaii over Christmas break. We rented a house on the south coast of Maui, where the leaves were brown and the grass was dry, and we sat on the porch drinking beer illicitly and watching the waves come sloshing in to the rocks a few hundred yards away. The house remains in my mind as possibly the nicest place I have ever stayed: large and airy, with a sort of Californian brightness upstairs in the room with the pool table and vast tiled bathrooms like nothing I'd ever seen. I slept on a sofa bed downstairs, next to the kitchen, and hoped that the salamanders that we saw while we ate weren't going to scamper up my leg. They didn't. The house, on a back street that backed up against a library, was only a stone's throw from the water. Not from the beach; we were in the economy section of the shore, where there was no sand, just a pile of black volcanic rocks that glistened, sharp and wet, in the tropical sun. When there was nothing else to do—and there rarely was—I wandered over and leaned against one of the palm trees at the top of the wall and wondered who had put them there.
             The south shore of Maui curves around until it actually faces west, which is where our house was. From under the palm trees we looked out at Japan, past a bare island that the Air Force had test-bombed into a wasteland and the flat surface of the sea that had been a wasteland since it was made. Every night a crowd of tourists not used to the event would congregate at the top of the rocks and watch as the sun dipped its toes in the sea and then suddenly plunged in. It's a truism to say that tropical sunsets are faster than we're used to in the upper latitudes, but I didn't see it. The sunsets seemed to last for hours at a time, from the moment I realized that the light was taking on the red-gold colour that set fire to the dry grass until the last burnished sliver of the sun slid under the horizon with a sigh. For the first few nights, at least, all twelve of us made sure to gather for the sunset, with our cameras and camcorders at the ready to capture the moment. After six or seven days the novelty wore off, but it was still pleasant to sit and watch the day end.
             I took a large number of pictures of those sunsets. I was only just discovering how much I enjoyed taking pictures, and my camera held all sorts of pleasant options for the technical exercise of photographing the sunset. I took pictures zoomed way in, pictures where the sun was just out of frame, pictures with blue and green filters, and clichéd pictures ready for inspirational Bible verses or possibly the Footprints poem. The horizon is a surprisingly exciting subject. When I looked through the results on my computer I found that all but one of the pictures I had taken were dull, lifeless, just the everyday sun. But there was one that was better. The sun was a little to the right of the frame, glowing orange and red onto the clouds in the far end of the sky, and I had framed the silhouettes of the trees against the brighter light in the western sky. The composition was, maybe, a little better than usual. But what sold me on the picture were the people in the foreground, watching the sunset. There were six of them: one sitting down, a couple in the middle trying to fix their camera, two off to the left shielding their eyes, and for some reason a girl, dancing, in the middle.

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