The blue hour

I love the end of the day when I can sit on the patio with Dave and my glass of wine. I can look down our hill at the flower beds I worked on today. Dinner is on the stove. I’ve washed off the day’s dirt and mulch. And can enjoy the riot of color below feeling like “a day well done.” It would be better without this awful Wisconsin drought, but it’s still pretty sweet.

When I was in high school I used to enjoy a similar tradition at my grandparents. I’d troop through the wooded path between our houses to join them now-and-again. Most nights, they would sit on their screened deck to watch the sun go down with their rum and diets. They’d tell me stories, discuss politics or books, and wait while their dinner cooked.

Grandma told me once that gloaming was her favorite part of the day. She explained that it was that moment during sunset when the colors went topsy-turvy. The warm colors (reds, yellows, oranges, etc.) that usually seem the brightest become less bright, as the cool colors (blues, greens, purples, etc.) become more vibrant.

I’m not sure I always saw what she did but I liked the concept so I’d squint my eyes trying to see the grass and spring bluebells brighter than her fuchsia peonies and rosy-pink bleeding heart.

This week I tried to learn more about gloaming.

Gloaming is a Scottish word for twilight, originally coming from the Old English glomung or glom which meant dusk. Gloaming or twilight is the time between dawn and sunrise or between sunset and dusk, during which sunlight scattering in the upper atmosphere illuminates the lower atmosphere, and the surface of the earth is neither completely lit nor completely dark. The sun itself is not directly visible because it is below the horizon.

Owing to the distinctive quality of the ambient light at this hour, twilight has long been popular with artists who refer to it as the “blue hour“, after the French expression l’heure bleue. Twilight is technically defined as the periods between sunset and sunrise during which there is natural light provided by the upper atmosphere, which receives direct sunlight and scatters part of it towards the earth’s surface.

Kind of ironic that Grandma’s perfume of choice was Gurlain’s L’Heure Bleue. I never made the connection before finding the article explaining the blue hour. It’s a great perfume of mostly roses and violets with a little vanilla (perfect for a grandma, right?).

I found all sorts of articles explaining what makes the beautiful colors in a sunset, why the sun sometimes appears red, and the psychology of color on our emotions and healthful well-being. There were scientific treatises on light refraction, spectrum of light, chromatics, prisms, our eyes, Rayleigh scattering, wavelengths… yada-yada-yada. I found nothing that verified Gram’s theory that the colors reversed their brightness.

If you have the answer to gloaming’s topsy-turvy colors, please share with me.


About Kary Beck

Mother and wife, gardener, wine enthusiast, avid online bargain hunter, and owner of two black-and-tan cocker spaniels.
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2 Responses to The blue hour

  1. Ellen Foley says:

    I am very jealous of your life!!


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