For a long time, I spent most winter dusks inside, fulminating against short days and the lack of daylight. Then the penny dropped: perhaps I should get out more at twilight and make the most of what little light there is and maybe, who knows, I'd actually appreciate it more. Amazingly, the ploy has worked and I've seen spectacular skies, twinkling streetscapes, theatrical silhouettes, and brilliant colours. Even the dampest, greyest, gloomiest dusk has compensations: in town, the contrasting warmth, brightness and bustle, and in the country, the atmospheric fading of light with the blurring of lines and outlines.
To keep faith with the idea of dusk as a special time of day, I considered some outdoor activities and tasks that are probably best done at dusk.
[Autumn Leaves (1856) John Everett Millais, Manchester City Art Gallery]
Making bonfires and burning leaves, when the smoke mixes with mist and drizzle and creates one of the essential smells of dusk.
Bulb-planting, as the shadows lengthen and there's a race against the light to get tulips and daffodils and hyacinths deep into the ground before it's too dark to see what you're doing.
[December Dusk (1995?) Thomas Deakins, Chelmsford]
Putting the bins out, so that you have a moment to appraise the colours of the sky, the silhouettes of the roofs, chimneys, bare trees, and to listen for the last birdsong of the day.
A twilight walk along a riverbank as the water and sky meld into one.
[Market Place, Kingston, Surrey, at Twilight (1987) Gary Jeffrey, Kingston-upon-Thames]
A wander round a good market as the greengrocers sell off celery and walnuts, cauliflowers and clementines.
Posting a letter. You may meet your Mr Rochester at dusk, just as Jane Eyre does. (If you are indoors, however, Jane Eyre is good book to read at dusk - lots happens at this time of day.)
[Lighting Up Time, the Thames Embankment Hugo Grenville b.1958]
A stroll along the Embankment with the strings of lights 'like jewels on chains' reflecting in the Thames.
[Letchworth Station, Scene at Dusk Francis King (1905-2001)]
Even the commute home can be made bearable at dusk by the lights of buildings, railway stations, bus stations, and streets set against the twilight sky. Plus, there's the promise of home at the end of the journey.
[Temple, Dusk William George Gillies (1898-1973), City of Edinburgh Council]