“The conditions are just right tonight,” my father was saying. He scanned the horizon in the way that Navy men sometimes do, with a studied familiarity that speaks of long days and nights spent at sea. “It’s a little drier, the air has a bit of crispness in it…” he continued, but already I knew where he was going. “I think tonight’s your best chance to see the green flash.”
For the uninitiated: it is sometimes maintained that a green flash can sometimes be seen just as the sun dips below the horizon – but only if conditions are perfect. Descriptions vary from one storyteller to another, but what seems to remain the constant is that the green flash never happens on the evening that someone tells you it will.
My father is a good laugher, and loves a good story, but with the exception of what I’ve come to think of as The Legend of the Green Flash, he’s never been what you’d call a practical joker. He’s an engineer by trade, and subtle humor is not his calling card. Still, he’s been selling me on the idea of a green flash for over 30 years now, and my own pet theory is that it’s all an elaborate ruse.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the legend has shaped my life. Every day after work I’m at the beach to relax and watch the sun set. I’ve seen countless sunsets from vantage points around the world – East Coast, West Coast, Gulf Coast, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Europe and middle America. From the coast to mountain tops, over lakes, cities and expanses of desert, I’ve watched the sun set in as many different kinds of conditions as mother nature has thrown at me, and still, no green flash.
My older brother, who has sailed around the world on tankers and skippered cruise ships from Alaska to the equator, grew up under the same tradition, and has also never seen the elusive green flash. Evidence enough for me.
Still, the internet being what it is, you can find all sorts of theories in support of the existence of the green flash. (Just like you can support for the existence of the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot.) Basically the science behind it is this: As the sun sets the atmosphere of the Earth acts as a weak prism, separating visible light into the colors of the rainbow, of which the last visible remnant against the backdrop of the sky is the color green.
The science seems sound, but even so, the term “green flash” would be a bit of a misnomer – “green sliver” might be more instructive for those hoping to catch the phenomenon.
So! Is the green flash a phenomenon, a fluke, or a fairy tale? On that I will let you be the judge. What I know for sure is that time spent on the beach at the end of the day, as a kaleidoscope of colors pass across the sky and waves lap against the sand – that’s time well spent.