The best time of day is not day at all. It is that time when time seems to slow, seemingly almost suspended. In our house it is the time after dinner for sitting with a book or writing while listening to contempative music. It is a when the cats digest their meal after washing up, and to get lap sessions, brushing, and petting. It is a time I find works well to do Reiki on myself. The French have a wonderful expression for it, as they do for so many things. It is l’heure bleu, the blue hour. In scientific terms, the blue hour occurs each morning and evening when the sun is below the horizon and there is a period when the light takes on a blue hue. This happens because the longer wavelengths of the red end of the spectrum pass directly into space while the shorter blue wavelengths are diffused through the atmosphere and reach the earth’s surface. While this phenomenon occurs in the morning, for me the true l’heure blue is the evening twilight. Not just evening twilight anytime, but the twighlight of midsummer, when l’heure bleu stretches to it longest, when it should more rightly be le temps bleu, for it is blissfully much longer than an hour.
As the sun circles the earth every twenty four hours it does so at different angles north or south of the equator. When the sun is at the celestial equator the circle is biggest and since the twenty four hours cannot stretch the sun’s daily motion must be faster. Faster motion translates to shorter twilights. This occurs near the equinoxes. Near the solstices the sun’s declination is farthest from the equator and the circles are the smallest, so the suns apparent motion is slower. Due to these changing angles, in summer the sun dips a shortedr distance below the horizon before it reverses and begins to rise. Its vertical motion at night is thus very slow, which makes possible that long summer twilight, that l’heure bleu.
I love the things that help me connect with the astronomical cycle. I love celebrating the equinoxes and solstices. Astronomy is my favorite science but I know there is something more in this attraction to the celestial markers of the turning wheel. Maybe I should say archeoastronomy is my favorite science because standing stones like Stonhenge and Carnac draw me as did the observatory of Jantar Mantar in Jaipur when I first saw pictures of it. However what stirs me about these places has more connection to the artistic side of l’heure bleu than the scientific. My imagination is inspired and my creativity stimulated.
For centuries l’heure bleu has been a favorite moment for artists to capture, as in the paintings shown above by Claude Monet, two of a series. It inspired parfumeur Jacques Guerlain to create his classic scent L’Heure Bleu which has endured in popularity for over a hundred years. L’heure bleu is the time that conjures a sidewalk cafe in Paris as the street lights begin to flicker on. A Mexican friend once told me for him it translated to an evening in the plaza of his home village as the heat of the day fell away with the sun and everyone sat to listen to the local band until the stars came out. For me now, it means sitting on my window bench with one or more of the cats watching the sky transition all the shades of blue through the branches of the old maple tree. At a certain point fireflies rise in the darkness. I block out the noise of the neighborhood with music, nearly always nocturnes, Chopin, Erik Satie, Samuel Barber or with ambient music composers like Tomita, Geodesium or Jean Michel Jarre. Over the years I have heard of the need for quiet time from people as various as gurus, accupuncturists, therapists and yoga instructors and I find mine in l’heure bleu. At a certain point blue slips from cobalt to unltramarine to indigo and music is no longer needed, the only sound outside now the swish of an occasional passing car. Inside there is only the sound of the fan and Mi Sun’s gentle snoring. The fireflies have begun their silent dance as the air finally cools and the maple becomes indistinguishable from the darkness.I will sit here, surrounded by dozing cats and enjoying the cool darkness and the fan, wrapped in a blanket of reverie until I too must go off to skeep.