From sundown to moon-up

CERTAIN towns in Massachusetts are ideally situated to make the most of a sunset. Truro is one of these, a thin strip of land on Cape Cod, from whose hills one can see both the sun and the moon rise and set in water. All year round folks go down to the Pamet Harbor to watch the last rays of the sun on Cape Cod Bay. Sometimes this can cause traffic jams.

On June 21 (``midsummer eve'') last year, by what seemed like a celestial fluke, the sun set in Truro's bay at 8:23 p.m. and a strawberry full moon rose from the ocean at 8:33 p.m. Fifty cars raced from coast to coast, a distance of three miles, to be in on both events. It was like the Super Bowl of sunsets and the Grand Prix of back roads.

Watching sunsets may seem like a strange and desperate thing - a courting of omens in a world already run by shadowy characters - but I have found it depends on the relative glow of your mind-set.

I have friends on a nearby hill who watch the whole display regularly instead of the evening news, and each night in spring, instead of finding out what's new in the White House basement, they are off to watch the ``evening wrap-up,'' as they call it. They pack bread and cheese, get out checked tablecloths and linen napkins, stick flowers in a pot, and set off for some new hill in the west to watch the sun sink into the bay. They find hills I've never heard about down lanes only teen-aged lovers have ever traveled.

They are strange, thrilling folk, who have brought all the struggle and romance of the 1930s in New York to their lives on the hills of Truro.

Somehow as the sun slips down the western sky, the great old days are back for them, the sidewalk caf'es, the intellectual ferment, the wild theater, crazy gowns, and baskets of French bread. Nothing seems to halt their sunset escapades, and on April afternoons they begin to boil with a lyric yeast. When I try to figure out what stirs them up so, I can only think of a line from Robert Frost's poem on neighborliness, ``Spring is the mischief in me.''

When the light begins to get that amber tint and cattail shadows start flowing east in the valley below me, I look up through the pines toward their house and hear the doors slam and a clamor of excitement. ``Simon, Simon,'' they call, and put their cat, a furious hunter, inside. Then they pile into their car, leaving behind a goldfinch nodding on the feeder, and they are off to catch the last rays of the sun.

There is no dimness in these sallies to the sea, and nothing dignified befitting lengthened years. Rectitude is drubbed in the last rays of the sun. And I thought as I saw them sail down the road with tablecloths flapping, this is the way a sunset should be treated, with the evening laid out like a repast before us.

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