Tag Archive 'light'

Dec 17 2015

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A Short Gray Day

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December Rail TrailAfter a productive morning on the computer, I went to the nearby rail trail to stretch my legs and clear my head. The sky overhead was full of clouds so I wasn’t real excited about getting outdoors. But the midday temps were well above freezing. That meant the walk would be pleasant enough.

The sun, hanging low in the southern sky, peeked through the clouds just as I was starting out. That was the last of it, though. A stiff breeze blew in more clouds from the west a few minutes later, obscuring the sun and assuring that it’ll rain this evening.

Here in northern Vermont, the sun rose at 7:24 this morning. It’ll set at 4:12 this afternoon. Yeah, it’s that time of year – a tough time for those of us who are energized by light.

Chickadees flitted through the trees, adding a little cheer to an otherwise dreary day. I flushed a great blue heron from a small brook. My dog Matika was happy just to trot along and sniff around. Watching her, I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps I think too much.

Nature has its moods. It is best to roll with them, I kept telling myself. So I focused on the warm air, and the clear path underfoot as I walked – a rarity in mid-December. Be grateful for that. The deep cold and heavy snow will come soon enough.

The days will start getting longer in a couple weeks. Until then, I’ll illuminate the tree in my living room as grey light gives way to twilight. In fact, it’s time to do that now. In the absence of the real thing, artificial light will have to do.

 

 

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May 04 2014

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A Fiery Moment

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fiery treesLike most people here in the North Country, I plod along through a seemingly endless succession of grey, rainy days, waiting for that outburst of verdure called springtime. It is May, after all, and the brown month following winter is behind us.

Then it happens.

The sky breaks open and the dull landscape suddenly comes alive. I step outside for a better look at trees awash in fiery light. The sun has dropped below the rainclouds and is now hovering above the western horizon. Am I hallucinating?

A light rain dampens my skin but I don’t care.

And then, as if illumination wasn’t enough, a rainbow arcs across the sky. Despite any scientific explanation, it is truly a mystical phenomenon. The world we inhabit is too marvelous for words.

Wildness is everywhere.

 

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Mar 16 2014

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Chasing the Light

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MarchLakeChampWinter persists. A Nor’easter dumped over a foot of snow on northern New England this week, followed by an all-too-familiar cold snap. But the March sun melts the ice with ease at midday, and lingers into early evening. There is hope for us yet. The equinox, after all, is only four days away.

My dog Matika was so restless this morning that I had no choice but to take her out for a run. She was my excuse, anyhow. Where to go? Usually I gravitate to the woods, but today I went to the lake. If I can’t have warmth and greenery, then give me blue sky and sunlight.

A wicked north wind greeted me as I stepped out of my car and walked to the edge of Lake Champlain. It was iced over as far as the eye could see. I tossed a ball for Matika while trudging across the icy ground between snowdrifts. Judy had warned me about this bitter, lakeshore cold. But I ventured into it anyway, chasing the light.

The many tracks in the snow assured me that Matika and I weren’t alone in our restlessness. A few hardy ice fishermen stood motionless on the bay ice despite the cold. For a moment I imagined lake water lapping gently to shore before me as it had the last time I was here.

My eyes watered as the wind blew, urging me to cut my walk short. Oblivious to the cold, Matika kept running after the ball. Clouds appeared on the western horizon and that was it for me. Back inside for another day. Spring will arrive soon, the optimist in me kept thinking. And I smiled when I saw a shamrock decoration plastered to the window of a house during my drive home.  Yes, spring will arrive soon, very soon.

 

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Dec 21 2013

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Winter Solstice

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winter woodsToday is the shortest day. Today winter begins. As someone who loves everything green and growing, not to mention daylight, I find this to be a tough time of year. I am not alone in this.

I believe that the holidays were invented to help us cope with the darkness, and to ease the transition into the cold season. Hope, joy, love, and everything warm and bright indoors – we certainly make the best of things, don’t we? I have lights on my house, a decorated tree in my living room, and holiday cards on full display. Yeah, I too take the Winter Solstice seriously.

The other day I went for a walk in the woods. There was enough snow on the ground to cover up the starkness of the landscape and the snow-laden boughs of conifers were easy on the eye. I was chilled at first but exertion got my blood flowing. After a while I started thinking: “This isn’t so bad.”

Oddly enough, winter is the hardest to take when we are struggling to get from our homes to somewhere else by car or some other mode of fast transportation. On foot, in the woods, it’s not so bad at all.

While sitting at home and listening to weather forecasters, it seems like disaster is imminent. The forest tells another story: temperatures rise, then they fall. Storms come, then the sky breaks open. And the seasons cycle round and round.

Winter is nothing to get all stressed out about. Worst case scenario, stay off the road. There’s plenty to do indoors. And when the walls start closing in, go for a walk. If nothing else, it’ll help you appreciate what your furnace or fireplace provides.

 

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Sep 16 2013

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Shadows and Light

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AH side trailSeptember is a great month for hiking. The bugs are down, the air is cool, and there aren’t as many people in the woods. Yet there’s something ominous about the natural world this time of year – something that gets my attention before I’m distracted by the brilliant display of autumnal color.

I see it in the blue and white asters that grow along the trail. I feel it in a chilling gust of wind. I smell it – a whiff of fungus, aged foliage and dry earth filling my nostrils. The long, languid days of summer are behind us. And while it’ll be a month or two before the first snow flies here in the Champlain Valley, there’s no doubt that the growing season is coming to an end.

These days a walk through the woods is a walk through shadows and light. The canopy overhead is thick, but sunbeams still get through. More to the point, the day is noticeably short, bookended by what seems like longer periods of twilight. And an overcast day that I would have shrugged off in midsummer really affects me now.

None of this is cause for alarm. Autumn is a good time to be outdoors and it is just now beginning. But I find myself more pensive during my walks this time of year. While the fruits of the land are being harvested, I take stock. I ruminate. I ponder matters at length now – matters that seemed too heavy to even consider when the thermometer was pushing 90 degrees. My mind these days is also a curious blend of shadows and light.

No cause for alarm at all. My frame of mind is merely changing with the season. The best months for thinking lie directly ahead. For a guy like me, who wonders as much as he wanders, that’s a good thing.

 

 

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Dec 04 2012

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Evergreen

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Shortly after Thanksgiving, I shoveled snow from my driveway for the first time this year. That was something of a surprise. But the snow that fell a couple days ago came with ample warning. I went out to Indian Brook Reservoir to greet it. Some things are best tackled head on.

In winter mode now, I wear hat, gloves and several layers of thermals and wools when I go into the woods. The days of t-shirt hiking are gone, along with all the fresh vegetation. That’s okay. I still have fresh air and the evergreens to sustain me.

With few exceptions, conifers keep their color during the winter. To eyes as hungry for green as mine are, that is no small matter. I find myself gravitating to them even though they block out much-needed daylight. I find myself drawn to their natural beauty, especially when they are highlighted by snow. Clearly I’m not alone in this sentiment. Even those who aren’t devout Christians are dragging evergreen trees into their homes. Their evergreen-ness consoles us.

Turning a corner at Indian Brook Reservoir, I caught a copse of conifers backlit by grey light as the snow fell. It took my breath away. There is the invigorating joy of the first lily in the spring, the lush happiness of full summer, and the burnt orange delight of autumn, but the snow-laced evergreens of early winter are something else. A walk through them and suddenly I am contemplating the mystical. The interplay of green and white – of shadow and light – excites my imagination, making me wonder how this world came to be. The earth tilted on its axis and circling the sun isn’t the whole story. Surely something else is at work here.

 

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Feb 24 2011

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February Sun

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The bright February sun burns through a cloudless sky as I don a pair of Yaktrax and start hiking around Indian Brook Reservoir.  The last time I was here, a couple weeks ago, I needed snowshoes to negotiate the deep powder.  Now it’s a different story.  Now the trail is hard-packed snow, covered with ice in places.  Traction is what is needed today, and traction is what the rubber-and-steel-coil contraptions that I’ve slipped onto my boots provide.

When I let my dog out to pee this morning, a blast of single-digit air greeted me.  But the February sun has been burning bright since then, so now the temps are in the high twenties.  When I’m standing in the open, it feels much warmer.  I welcome the change.

The day is relatively long in late February – a few minutes shy of eleven hours at these latitudes.  Gone are the short days of December and its distant, indifferent sun.  Now the dazzling yellow orb overhead is both forceful and inviting.  A few hours of it on a day like this and snow piles whither.  At least half of the snow covering the ground has melted away already, and in a few places here and there the ground actually shows itself.  Surely the sap of maple trees is starting to flow.  One doesn’t need to be a syrup producer to sense that.

My dog Matika is busy sniffing.  There are fresh tracks everywhere, crisscrossing the trail.  Many of the smaller woodland creatures are scurrying about now, looking for food to get them through the rest of winter.  There are more dog and people tracks, as well.  Yeah, everyone is restless.

Beneath a stand of mature hemlocks, I pluck small, half-buried cones from the snow.  I gather up a dozen and squirrel them away in a side pocket of my jacket.  When I get home, I’ll pile the cones on my desk where the indoor heat will open them.  And there they will stay until the first real signs of spring appear.  This little ritual keeps me going this time of year, when ice clings stubbornly to roof edges and snow is still everywhere.  I am heartened by the tiny cones, and the bright light that’s slowly melting away these last few cold, winter days.  It won’t be long now.

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Dec 02 2010

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Chasing the Light

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Sunlight breaks through the leafless trees at midday – a welcome sight for light-hungry eyes after so many gray days.  Now there’s nothing but blue sky overhead.  I amble along the well-groomed trail, not wandering far away from it, respecting the No Trespassing signs posted on both sides.  Yet my eyes steal southward all the same, chasing the light.  It’s a precious commodity this time of year, when the sun rises so reluctantly and sets all too soon.

A storm front passed through the region a few days ago, leaving a dusting of snow on the ground.  Usually the first snowfall melts off right away, but this one is lingering as if to remind folks that it’s December.  Those of us sensitive to light need no such reminder.

Air temperatures fluctuate, thus determining what kind of precipitation falls, but daylight remains ever faithful to the calendar.  Its slow, steady march through the seasons is deeply comforting in a world as tumultuous and unpredictable as ours.  All the same, the next few weeks of diminishing days are hard on those of us who thrive on light.  We won’t rest easy until we’re on the other side of the Winter Solstice.

I’ve often wondered if I would be so drawn to the Great Outdoors if I didn’t need the light so much.  In summertime I revel in it.  In the winter, the shortness of the day forces me outside.  People tell me that there are vampires among us who need the darkness as much as I need the light, but I find that hard to believe.  Daylight, direct or indirect, is essential to all living things.  Who can go long without it?

Here in the North Country, there are those who string up artificial lights in order to keep the darkness at bay.  Others drag bits of greenery into their houses to remind themselves that the growing season will return.  Still others try to ignore nature’s signals, keeping themselves busy with indoor or outdoor activities, or elaborate holiday preparations.  Every year I find myself resorting to all these strategies.  But that doesn’t change the realities of light – what it does to us over time.  So the best thing we can do is just roll with it, letting nature take its course.  Eventually, the Earth’s axis will tilt as far away from the Sun as it can, then change its attitude.  All we have to do is endure.

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