Ask any Kansan about our sunsets or sunrises and they are likely to begin waxing poetic. One case in point: artist Allan Chow of Kansas City, whose painting Summer Sundown was featured in the Symphony in the Flint Hills Field Journal. One of Chow’s favorite places to paint is the Tallgrass Prairie.
“The sunsets in the majestic rolling hills resting beneath the cloud formations are very inspiring, and the one place where I can hear my soul speak through my paintings without any noise pollution,” Chow says.
But artists aren’t the only ones who find comfort in a Kansas sunset. Becky Arseneau grew up in Pottawatomie County, and although she now lives in Illinois, she says that nothing—not even the sun dipping below the ocean horizon line in Florida—can compare to the sun setting on a Kansas wheat field or the prairie grassland.
“Savoring the smell of fresh-cut hay or of freshly tilled earth while watching the sunset—well, there’s nothing better,” Arseneau says. “There is a distinct feeling of calm and peace that comes over me when I watch the sun set in Kansas.”
So what makes Kansas sunrises and sunsets so special? Well, it may be a case of beauty being in the eye, or the heart, of the beholder. National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson of Lindsborg believes that sunrises and sunsets evoke an emotional response from the people viewing them.
“We are impressed by our own human understanding of the coming and going of our days,” Richardson says. “The visual splendor is inseparable from our inner emotional dialogue.”
Sunrises and sunsets mark the ever-cyclical beginning and ending of night to day and day to night. They are the transitions by which we measure our time.
Stand and watch the sun appear to slowly dip below the horizon, and you can’t help but feel a sense of reflection, possibly even longing, for the current day’s end. Do the same as the sun rises again in the east at the beginning of a new day, and you might feel excited expectation or promise in what lies ahead.
In Kansas, sunrises and sunsets are more than supporting players to our unique and expansive landscape. As with summer storms moving in from the southwest or winter chills blowing down from the north, we watch and we pay close attention because, living in Kansas, we often feel more exposed and more personally affected by the power, and the beauty, of nature.
When everything aligns perfectly and we are treated to good weather or a spectacular sunset, we appreciate it more deeply because we have lived through many days of great imperfection.
When Lawrence artist Lisa Grossman, known for her stunning paintings of Flint Hills landscapes and sunsets, heads out to paint, she believes that a feeling for our place and scale here is an essential part of the process.
“When observing the sunset, I often take the opportunity to shift my perception to the fact that the sun is not a flat object dropping behind a solid line, but that we in fact are on a vast sphere that’s imperceptibly rolling away from the sun,” Grossman says. “Being in the open spaces of Kansas at the evening turn, as I like to call it, is a good way for me to reconnect with the size and scale of our planet.”
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PROOF - NO MATTER THE SEASON OUR SUNSETS & RISES SET KANSAS APART
Topeka-based photographer Brad Neff often shoots sunrises and sunsets near Kansas lakes, rivers and ponds, so he can capture the way the light reflects and interacts with the water.
“For me, a Kansas sunrise and sunset can be very spiritual,” Neff says. “All my senses are heightened with the sound of wind, waves and wildlife playing into the overall experience. I don’t really know if watching a Kansas sunrise and sunset makes me feel big or small, but I do know they help restore my soul and are something I need.”
Eldon Clark, a photographer from Minneapolis, Kansas, has been watching the Kansas sky for sunups and downs, as well as the state’s unpredictable weather, since he was a little boy and his father took him out to watch storms.
“I think that is what started my quest to capture the beautiful light of Kansas,” Clark says. “There is nothing like taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the Kansas countryside in early morning or late evening.”
We’re fortunate that here in Kansas everyone, whether city dweller or country homesteader, is only a few minutes away from an open view and wide perspective of the horizon. And if you were born in Kansas, you tend to see this horizon differently than those who simply pass through.
For Arseneau, whenever she returns to Kansas she makes sure to visit her family land, north of Louisville, to watch the sunset.
“Watching the sun dip below the horizon in such a familiar place brings me back to where I grew up and to where my roots still are. Kansas will always feel like home,” she says.
We stand, awed by the array of pinks and purples, oranges, golds and other colors reflected by the setting or rising sun across our Kansas landscape, and it becomes a blank slate on which we can record our hopes for the day to come or count our blessings for the one just passing. Possibly we believe that if we have lived through another day on the prairie when the winds didn’t blow us away, or the snow didn’t pile up too high; when the sun rose with precision, warming the earth and all on it, and then radiantly set, allowing a cool breeze to soothe our skin, bones and spirit—well then, just maybe, it’s an indication that no matter what is transpiring elsewhere, at least for these few moments under a wide Kansas sky, something is good and right.