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Posts Tagged ‘light’

ice spike 1

A gleam in the gloaming.

In the dead of winter, the evenings are cold and dark and the mornings begin with a painfully slow return of the light. It’s as if the machinery that lifts the sun is a hand-cranked wooden device operated by an unnaturally decrepit wee person, whose tiny boots are lifted off the ground each time he reaches the top of the turn. On frosty mornings I can almost hear the creakings of the machine and the wee person’s bones.

This makes the early light more precious, and I look to the east each morning to catch the first signs of illumination. During January I was usually halfway to work before they appeared.

Maybe we have to endure the longer darkness of this season as a reminder of the importance of light and hope. Common wisdom in North Carolina is that it takes two bitterly cold months to annihilate all the fleas and ticks; perhaps it’s the same for people, and long spells of cold and dark eradicate some of our more toxic qualities and cause us to seek the light more purposefully.

In a winter-hammered landscape, the light creates a feeling of compassion…it is possible to imagine a stifling ignorance falling away from us. – Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams, as quoted by Robert Macfarlane in his wonderful book, Landscapes.

Even during the gray weeks of Lent there are signs of hope. One Sunday morning this winter I glanced outside and saw a bright flash in the birdbath, like a bit of mirror reflecting the first fragments of sunlight, even while the rest of the landscape lay steeped in gloom. I stood at the back door in my pajamas, trying to figure out what the gleam meant. I looked at it through our binoculars, then Ernesto looked.

“It’s ice,” he said.

“It isn’t,” I replied.  

Finally I put on socks and a jacket over my pajamas and went to check it out. It was ice. (“I told you,” E. said.) The ice had grown out of the birdbath to form an inverted pyramid, about 1.5” tall and filled with water.

Ice Spike 2

I searched for “ice formation in birdbath” online and found the web pages of Dr. James R. Carter, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois Department of Geography-Geology. Dr. Carter specializes in ice formations, and he has conducted many interesting experiments in his own yard:

To my surprise, one night at about 11:00 PM I found the water in one bottle cap formed into what is called an Ice Spike.  I had read about these but suddenly I had my own. I have been able to produce ice spikes on occasion but have not been able to do it consistently.   

Dr. Carter’s site features a picture of an ice pyramid similar to mine. It had been sent to him by someone like me who had found him through the magic of the Internet. Dr. Carter writes:

This triangular ice in the birdbath is not unique in the world. The Weatherwise explanation provides a link to a web page of a couple in Scotland where they show a number of such ice formations that they found in their garden. And I have received photos from other persons showing triangular wedges of ice growing in birdbaths.  I appreciate seeing such photos so please share them with me.

Well, of course I would share. I immediately sent an e-mail to Dr. Carter with a photo of our ice vase (that’s what Fred and Sarah, the couple in Scotland, call them). He wrote back straight away, telling me he’d never seen one with a four-sided top; they’re usually triangular. He added that he may post my photos to his website, but he made no firm promise, as he doesn’t update the pages very often.

Ice vase, after I displaced some of the water inside by sticking my finger in it.

Ice vase, after I displaced some of the water inside by sticking my finger in it.

What a lovely thing to find by accident in one’s backyard. As Henry David Thoreau once said of snowflakes: “How full of the creative genius is the air in which these are generated! I should hardly admire more if real stars fell and lodged on my coat.”

Star-like or not, in the grand scheme of things our ice vase—which melted in the afternoon sun—is hardly important. Maybe you’ve noticed there’s a lot going on in the world right now. In America alone, politicians have been taken over by a sort of lunacy, every symptom of which is reported with great zeal. Instead of falling away, a stifling ignorance seems to be closing in on us. Why isn’t the cold and dark creating a feeling of compassion in the political arena, or at least killing off the hateful fleas and ticks? No wonder I want only to turn away, and look for light on the horizon—which happily comes a wee bit earlier every morning and lingers a tad bit longer every evening.

Anyway, E. B. White has given me permission to turn away:

A writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter. I feel no obligation to deal with politics. I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down.

In ‘The Ring of Time,’ I wrote: ‘As a writing man, or secretary, I have always felt charged with the safekeeping of all unexpected items of worldly or unworldly enchantment, as though I might be held personally responsible if even a small one were to be lost.

I have always felt that way, too. So I’m taking care to preserve evidence of our item of enchantment here, in my virtual cabinet of curiosities. Maybe a portion of the light that it held for one winter morning will be preserved with it, for the betterment of us all.

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Vilhelm_Hammershøi_-_A_Room_in_the_Artist's_Home_in_Strandgade,_Copenhagen,_with_the_Artist's_Wife_-_Google_Art_Project

Vilhelm Hammershøi: A Room in the Artist’s Home in Strandgade, Copenhagen with the Artist’s Wife – 1901

My earliest memory is really only a fragment of a memory. I was about three years old, and a realtor was showing my family a house.  We walked down a hall, where sunshine came through the doorways of adjacent rooms and fell on the hardwood floor in distorted rectangles. I walked down the hall holding one of my parent’s hands (I’m not sure which), trying to step from one block of sunshine to the next.  The sun was so bright at my feet that if I looked up to see where I was going, everything seemed dark.  So I kept looking down. It was as if nothing existed but me, those blocks of sunshine, and the hand that held mine.

Sometimes I feel as if I should be able to enter that memory into a search engine and,  after a spell of sputtering and whirring, receive links to sites that lend it a deeper meaning, or at least connect me to places that would enlighten and delight. Instead, when I type in a phrase—let’s say, “blocks of light”—I end up with a list of things available for sale. In this case the list included an iTunes app and sustainable resin building panels. So I adjusted my search and used different combinations of words:  bars of light, sunlight on the floor, shafts of light.

And slowly, I did begin to find more enlightening information.  The first satisfying stop was Parabola magazine, which had Richard Whittaker’s interview with artist Jane Rosen.  Rosen paints and sculpts nature, especially birds. Best of all, the light in her studio changed her life:

RW:  Well, I wanted to go back to where you mentioned earlier something about this bar of light that falls into your studio. Now you said that this bar of light has…

JR:  It changed my life. I always had studios where there were no bars of light coming in because that kind of light changes everything, completely washing out the pieces. And at first, I was very upset with the lighting…. All day from dawn until dusk you get extremes of light bouncing all over and it was interfering. Then, just sitting in this chair day after day, week after week… what started to happen was I started to listen to the light. I started to catch the light at various moments where the light would inform what the height of the piece needed to be, or the turn of the head. I started seeing the light as a help rather than trying to control it. Being in relation to the light was a big thing!

Jane Rosen: "Birds/Gamut" installation view, 2006Glass and marble mix

Jane Rosen: “Birds/Gamut” installation view – 2006

Being in relation to the Light is, in fact, a Quaker thing, so I went to Faith and Practice and found this from Hugh L. Doncaster:

“Each one… has the responsibility to seek, and seek, and seek again where the Light is leading.”

I was happy to continue seeking—and am marvelously glad I did, because I came across a music CD with the magnificent title He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms The CD is by a Canadian group called A Silver Mt. Zion, sometimes known as Thee (yes, thee) Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-la-la Band. Now, that was interesting because my parents attend (and I grew up attending) Mt. Zion Baptist Church! I then learned that the album is lead guitarist Efrim Menuck’s tribute to his late dog, Wanda. My sister has a late dog whose name was Wanda!  Also Efrim was born two days before my 11th birthday.

The names of the songs on the Silver Mt. Zion CD are equally enchanting:  “Broken Chords Can Sing a Little,”  “Sit in the Middle of Three Galloping Dogs,” “Stumble Then Rise on Some Awkward Morning,” “Blown-Out Joy from Heaven’s Mercied Hole,” and (of course) “For Wanda.”

For a moment I thought there was another song on the CD, more prominently featured than the rest, called “Play Your Music From the Cloud.”  Then I realized that was an advertisement for the Amazon Cloud Player and nothing to do with angels at all.

Finally, another splash of light fell across my path this morning when I read the latest post by Gerry in his wonderful blog, That’s How the Light Gets In:  “Scientist reveals how the light gets in.”  Take a look. I am particularly fond of the final stanza of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem,” which was the source of Gerry’s blog title. It seems rather Christmassy, too:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Follow your own light wherever it leads.  But try not to confuse it with the advertisements.

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