Looming of the Sun

I was told by the keeper of a lighthouse, that on the eighth of June, a particularly clear and beautiful morning, he rose about half an hour before sun-rise, and, having a little time to spare, for his custom was to extinguish his lights at sunrise, walked down toward the shore to see what he might find. When he got to the edge of the bank, he looked up, and, to his astonishment, saw the sun rising, and already partway above the horizon. Thinking that his clock was wrong, he made haste back, and, though it was still too early by the clock, extinguished his lamps, and when he had got through and come down, he looked out of the window, and, to his still greater astonishment, saw the sun just where it was before, two-thirds above the horizon. He showed me where its rays fell on the wall across the room. He proceeded to make a fire, and when he had done, there was the sun still at the same height. Where upon, not trusting to his own eyes any longer, he called up his wife to look at it, and she saw it also. There were vessels insight on the ocean, and their crews too, he said, must have seen it, for its rays fell on them. It remained at that height for about fifteen minutes by the clock, and then rose as usual, and nothing else extraordinary happened during that day. Though accustomed to the coast, he had never witnessed nor heard of such a phenomenon before. I suggested that there might have been a cloud in the horizon invisible to him, which rose with the sun, and his clock was only as accurate as the average; or, perhaps, as he denied the possibility of this, it was such a looming of the sun as is said to occur at Lake Superior and elsewhere. Sir John Franklin, for instance, says in his “Narrative,” that, when he was on the shore of the Polar Sea, the horizontal refraction varied so much one morning that “the upper limb of the sun twice appeared at the horizon before it finally rose.”

He certainly must be a son of Aurora to whom the sun looms, when there are so many millions to whom it glooms rather, or who never see it till an hour after it has risen. But it behooves us old stagers to keep our lamps trimmed and burning to the last, and not trust to the sun’s looming.

— Henry D. Thoreau

Source: The Boatswain’s Whistle (November 18, 1864)