Friday, April 20, 2007

Qualities of Light

Long ago, I had a dream about Mt. Rainier. I couldn't see the mountain; I only knew it was Rainier because it was a dream, and because of a certain quality of light that filled every piece of the dream, a diffusion in the Doug firs, a green that I've never seen anywhere lower than 7,000 feet above sea level, and a refraction among glaciers.

Moloch's description of running reminded me of this dream, and made me think of light. Kyu once wrote a post on a similar theme (and better), but it seems to be gone. Here's my effort. Please feel free to add others.


When I lived in Seattle, I played frisbee for hours on end. In the mornings I got up and ran around Green Lake, then settled into the Honey Bear Bakery (now sadly extinct) to do my Chinese homework over a pumpkin muffin. I biked to school, I biked to frisbee, and when I coasted back home, sunset and streetlights glowed across the lake and into Elliot Bay. You could breath light there, better than air.


I had a Seattle flashback over the weekend when mrs. august and I went to Oregon for a wedding. We drove three hours south of Portland, to a town prey to the logging industry. A river flowed behind our hotel, and the flowering trees (pink dogwood, magnolia, cherry) reflected the riverlight. Driving back, mrs. august read aloud to me from Julie on Julia, and I fantasized about boning a duck. When we got home, I made scones, which cooled in racks on the dull marble.


Light in the Northwest feels fecund and alive. In Norfolk it feels like a swamp. Humidity makes the light heavy, as does the monotonous flatness. The city is near the (failed) Roanoke colony and the (successful) Jamestown version, and in both cases one imagines the English arriving to great disappointment. Oysters make life worth living, but the light is only bearable at dawn,. I prefer Norfolk at night – its movie theaters, its docks, its diners where my friends and I tried to sober up.


The light here is both humid and blinding, heavy like Norfolk, yet the world becomes vaster in the Taipei sun. At times the mountains and clouds seem illuminated from every angle, and the world cast in a sweaty blue. Then comes the rain, and there is no light. Getting off the plane in Taipei is like cleaning your glasses. It's as if light had an electric charge, and one crackled with every act of vision.


twiffer said...

twilight: light is bound not only to space, but time as well. i love the transition of dusk to twilight. sight sharpens as the light darkens. the shape of things becomes more clearly defined; as if the eyes are preparing for darkness and want to imprint a memory of the world before night takes sight away.

starlight: clear night, the high peaks of the adirondacks. seeing the milky way gives you a sense of infinity. you understand how the universe is a nice place to be a speck.

Anonymous said...


light isn't just about presences. it's equally about absences.

Most ignore the absences. If you don't follow me, see that recent Ray Charles biography, and watch him - really with him - as he goes blind.

Keifus said...

A couple of my favorites:

summer evening: orange, warm, mellow. It's like living in stolen time, a beautiful hour of twilight salvaged from the dark that grips it for most of the year. It's reminiscient of childhood games (look how long our shadows are!) or of enjoyed adult company, sitting and sipping on the porch, warm conversations, faces thrown into a fuzzed chiaro oscuro, shadows thrown across ginger-infused skin.

winter night: when the ground is covered in fresh snowfall, the sort that deadens all sound and smell. Any available light refracts and suffuses about the blowing crystals. You're in a surreal landscape with no sky and a homogenized ground, a stratum of (again) orange light that comes from nowhere really, but is everywhere.