Friday, October 28, 2011

On the loss of sunset skies.

The Pittsford Perennialist reports that Upstate New York received the season's first snowfall yesterday; it hasn't snowed yet in Philadelphia, but weather reports suggest that it will tomorrow. The change of seasons is already perceptible in other ways: last night's overnight temperatures came close to freezing, while today was the first day of the semester that I felt compelled to wear a wool jacket when I went outside. Until recently, the walk around the Saint Joseph's University campus that I take most evenings after dinner afforded views of sunset skies likes the ones visible in this set of photographs; as the daylight hours become fewer, my evening walk now takes place after dark. Winter isn't here yet, but summer is definitely gone.

The intent of this post isn't merely to note the change of seasons, but also to share a series of photos that I took one evening on my regular walk around Hawk Hill. Though I didn't get around to downloading them from my camera until today, these photos were taken just over a month ago - when the daylight hours still lingered long into the evening. I offer these images as a kind of visual elegy for the loss of summer, a memorial to a time of year that has regrettably gone by.

As Jack Siberski once observed in one of his photo-filled posts from Australia, "The challenge of taking photos at sunrise or sunset is time." The moments when clouds and sunlight combine in a way that makes for a good image tend to pass by quickly, so one must be ready to capture them while one can. There were several evenings before the one when I took these photos that I set out for my walk, noticed the beauty of the sky along the way, and I thought, "I really should bring my camera with me sometime." When I finally did bring my camera, it was basically an afterthought: I was halfway down the driveway leading to the Jesuit residence when I looked at the sky, realized it was now or never, and went back to the house to get my camera before I proceeded any further. These photos are the result of that premeditated yet ultimately impulsive decision.

The railing, lamps and tower visible here are part of an elevated footbridge that connects the two parts of the Saint Joseph's University campus that are separated by City Avenue, a major thoroughfare that cuts between Philadelphia and its Main Line suburbs.

The building visible in silhouette on the right side of this photo is McShain Hall, a large freshman dormitory. I like the way that McShain and the trees to the left look here with the different bands of color in the sky behind.

McShain and trees again, with the sky in the background. One can see that I liked the way these elements went together at sunset!

That's still McShain on the right, but here you can also see City Avenue, if only barely. In this photo, I like the contrast between the fading light of the sunset sky and the headlights and traffic lights at street level.

This is St. Mary's Hall, another SJU domitory. Designed to look like an English country house, St. Mary's was built as a private residence and later became a nursing home run by the Sisters of Bon Secours; with the expansion of the SJU campus, the building was purchased by the university and converted into student housing. An old article in the student newspaper suggests that St. Mary's might be haunted, though I've never heard anyone talk about this in my time on Hawk Hill. In any event, I think the many-chimneyed silhouette of this building looks neat with the evening sky as a backdrop.

This is the one photo is this set in which the sky is seen only in reflection, mirrored in the windows of Bronstein Hall on the SJU campus.

This spire caps the former chapel of Episcopal Academy, a private day school that used to be located next to Saint Joseph's University along City Avenue. In 2008, Episcopal moved to new premises further out in the suburbs, selling its old campus to SJU. When I arrived on Hawk Hill, the old Episcopal chapel still contained some of its former trappings - pews, communion rail, choir stalls - even though it had been officially deconsecrated when its former owners left. Since then, the old chapel has been gutted and transformed into a multipurpose meeting space. All things must end, I suppose, but I still can't pass this old chapel without feeling some sadness that a space that was once sacred to many has been given over to entirely secular use.

Not far from the old Episcopal chapel, here is Merion Hall, a classroom and office building that is busy during the day but eerily vacant as the sun finally disappears below the horizon.

This is the O'Pake Recreation Center, formerly the Episcopal Academy school gym. The date on the building's cornerstone is 1962; though much of the structure is blandly functional in the way that postwar school buildings typically are, O'Pake does have some attractive architectural elements, such as the gently arched roof seen here.

I'd like to write more on the passing of the seasons, but I must head off to Mass and dinner. After that, I'll be heading downtown for a concert - which means that I will not be taking my usual postprandial walk tonight. Next time I take that walk, however, I'll be walking in the dark and not in the glowing sunset you've seen in these photos - and as I do so, I'll likely be mindful of the loss of the sunset skies of summer. AMDG.


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