“The jewel that we find, we stoop and take it,
Because we see it; but what we do not see
We tread upon and never think of it.”
Angelo – Measure For Measure.
To live in San Diego is to live among jewels, and to really thrive here one must be constantly looking down. There is one precious treasure San Diegans walk on daily — it is the sun, the jewel that defines the city.
Sun, sun, sun – in this town you walk all over it. Check the bottoms of your shoes. They are probably warm. San Diegans bask in sunshine about 70% of the daylight hours. City hall scandals, half-a-million dollar house prices, Qualcomm stadium, Balboa Park, the San Diego zoo, Sea World – all and more make up the local identity, but it is the average daytime temperature, the 70.5 degrees, that best defines this city. The essence of San Diego, in the long run, is what piles up on the red tile roofs, covers the sidewalks and fills the potholes in the streets most everyday – sunshine! Sunshine is San Diego’s bejeweled identity.
The experts say that the Sun’s energy output is about 386 billion billion megawatts, and in San Diego the sun certainly rules as Shakespeare’s jewel multiplied by billions. The sun is warmly overhead and underfoot here often and it’s worth taking a second look at it. If you live here, if you pay the local sun tax, if you visit here — don’t miss this radiant gift. How could you? You could. We all tread on jewels.
One of the primary lessons the impressionist painters taught is to catch light on the smooth surfaces. In 1892 the French Impressionist Monet rented a room opposite the Cathedral of Rouen and painted the church’s facade over and over again. Each painting is a unique study in light, because with the changes in light, the colors and angles of the walls were ever changing. This approach still yields treasure.
When the sun is out, San Diego’s architecture is a vast sun catcher. In the afternoon the huge windowed walls of San Diego’s downtown buildings turn into great sheets of fire as the sun sets over the Pacific. Solar fire falls onto all unblocked offices and homes facing west. Every window becomes the sun’s picture frame. Some places in the world are defined by ice. San Diego is defined by fire.
On a sunny afternoon, the edges of the city, an overhead street sign, the top of a building, a fender speeding down the Interstate 5 – all turned to California gold. A custom wheel spins the local yellow star into a perfectly straight thread of gold. Here, the ordinary commute home is a solar fantasia.
Natural Sun Catchers
Although the sun is the largest object in the solar system and contains more than 99.8% of the systems total mass, the small, thin, fragile surfaces of the natural world finely show it off.
San Diego is a city where the trees work for the city as a force of light gatherers. San Diego’s palms are sun harvesters, and they fill up and literally drip with light. Their dark green and shiny surfaces turn sunshine into sterling silver. The tall Mexican fan palms drip silver light from their glowing fan tips. The graceful queen palms grab light with their long silver-green fingers. “Catch more,” they cry, holding up their hands to the sun.
Kate Sessions, San Diego’s early 20th century “city gardener,” who imported, propagated and popularized many trees here helped set the stage for a tree lit city. The trees in this city are the daytime street lamps.
The magnolias, bearing dark green shiny leaves, function as sun spades, slicing light in half. The avocados do the same. The secret to being a leafy street lamp is in having shiny leaves. Banana leaves glow like pale green lamp shades. Jacarandas blaze with an inspired blue-lavender splendor.
Walls, shadows, leaves — it’s all good, but to see San Diego’s light in a special glory, one should see it mixed, and remixed with water. Along the cliffed beaches, the swells toss the water joyfully against the sandstone. Then as the salty sea runs back into the ocean, it grabs the light from the air and hangs glowing icicles of light between rock and sea. Along the sandy beaches, the sun and water mix in another form as the waves fall and break into tiny white water bubbles. The bubbles are lenses, they focus the light. With the sun directly overhead, each single bubbles catch a bit of it and casts a tiny star-shaped bright spot onto the sandy floor below. Astonishing — the sun in a bubble!
It has been computed that one hundred and nine earths would fit across the sun’s disk. Its interior could house about 1.3 million earths and in this beach city, every sunny day the sun is as tiny and accessible to San Diegans as a bubble floating at the edge of the sea.
Stay at the shoreline that is filled with suns long enough and the light will get by you and head for the water, like some huge solar bonfire falling out of the sky. Every San Diego day ends with the sun in the sea. Down the bright light tumbles, past a bit of glowing dust wafting by like a planet, past the illuminated sea gulls, past the radiated tourists, past the silver palms. As it cartwheels toward the Pacific, it distorts in the thick atmosphere at the horizon, and its brilliant golden light trickles down its sides and puddles in the water. There it flows in a long glitter path, a sun road across the salty blue, collected finally in the tide pools, pure California gold.
At the end of the day, every San Diego frond and flat wall celebrates the sun. Every shell fragment lying on the shore and every wispy cloud above is baptized together for one glorious moment in golden fire until at last a tiny gold rim remains on the ocean’s horizon, and then is gone. The copies dissolve, the gold fades, and the light vanishes! It was the jewel of the city.
Did they see it? Perhaps some San Diegans didn’t. Not to worry. In San Diego the sun will almost always come out tomorrow. And mostly likely, it will come out the day after that and the day after that. And although it may be tread upon, there is the frequent opportunity here to stoop and take it — even for the briefest of flickering, sentient moments – the jewel of the city, the beautiful, glorious San Diego sunshine.