Sunday, December 03, 2006

A stretch of river XXVII: It was a beauteous evening

I have been delaying writing this post, in hopes of getting it right. Emotion recollected in tranquility and all that. I never will. But neither do I want to lose what I saw that night. So, I'm inflicting this less-than-perfect post (yet another one? So what else is new? you're thinking) on you as well.

Back on Thursday night, the snow had stopped falling. Through the window, Scruffy had been watching it fall. Really. If it can be said of a dog that he loves something, then Scruffy loves snow. He romps in it. He burrows his nose through it like a pig hunting truffles. He pulls against his collar and leash like a sled-dog. Off and on all day (my school cancelled classes), he'd go to the front door and whine a little. But the wind had been blowing hard all day, giving us near-zero windchills, so i was not exactly straining against my leash to get outside, either, much as I still find snow a delightful novelty (during the winter of 2000/2001, my first winter here, I saw more snow than I'd seen all my previous life).

I am glad we waited until nightfall to go out. I don't know if I have ever seen a night like this past Thursday in Riverside Park. I will try to do justice to it.

What made it so beautiful was the quality of light. Mind, it was full dark by the time we went for out walk. But there was still a heavy, low, pearly cloud cover; and that, combined with the new snow and, where I live, the airglow from the downtown area next door to us, created the oddest vision: the dome of sky immediately above us and extending toward the horizon was dimly, grayly reflecting and re-reflecting all this light, but the sky extending up a bit from the horizon itself, in all directions, was a deep, deep blue, an indigo, that met the cloudy dome at a clearly-defined edge. The first thing it made me think of was that it was like being inside a cappuchino. Sort of.

But what this did was create an ambient light that in its quality was amazingly like that light that one sees in the immediate aftermath of thunderstorms, when objects against the backdrop of the just-passed storm stand out with the contrast and clarity of William Carlos Williams' red wheelbarrow in the just-washed air. Except this was at night. The light was obviously not as bright, but the visual effect was otherwise exactly the same. It was startling and yet calming and soothing and very very beautiful. The white bark of sycamores, the very dark bark and needles of firs and pines--no matter: even as far away from some of these trees as I was, it felt as though I could discern every limb, every needle and cone. Add to all this all that snow's muffling the city's white noise, and you might perhaps can tell why I didn't want to hurry through our walk in the park.

I cannot afford the camera that could have done that scene justice. Nor am I the sort of writer that can convey this as it should be.

Wordsworth called for a poetry written in a language really spoken by men. But I don't know that any language exists that could convey what I saw that night. Only whatever language God speaks would suffice.


debra said...

I think I understand what you mean. The light that reflects off snow at night is the most beautiful, luminous light I've seen. You swear you can see things that you can't see during the day. I always wondered if the light reflecting off the snow illuminates things not normally visible.

The post was beautiful. Portraying your reaction to the night in itself portrayed the scene. Thank you!

Ariel said...

I also think I know what you're trying to get across. There's something very elusive about this kind of beautiful, snowy night - which is maybe why I haven't had the guts to try and describe them when they have "happened" to me in the past. You do a very good job.

(I like the bit about being inside a cappuccino.)

Paul Decelles said...

Yes I know what you mean...and I wonder how easy it would be to get that quality of light with a camera. You would probably have to do a lot of processing to really tweak your image.

Friday, did you see the moon and how intense it was? I tried getting even that silvery light with my camera and failed miserably.

R. Sherman said...

When the ice rolled in on Thursday/Friday of last week, the power went out about 2:00 AM. I was up (as usual) and stared out the dining room window at the light reflecting/refracting off the icicles on the Japanese plum right outside.

Nice moment. Good stuff, snow/ice.


Anonymous said...

I can so relate to your humbleness in the eye of beauty, the kind that fills the heart. Maybe someone will share some references to literature here depicting the rapture of a winter night. John Muir could have written something, but I have not found it. I'm glad you wrote the post. I ditto Debra.

A pat for Scruffy.

Comstock Park, MI

John B. said...

Thanks to all of you for commenting--and in particular for not laughing at me.

Two comments in particular:
Paul, the thing about the light that night was that it already looked processed, if that makes sense. How a camera could render that processed light without its looking darkroom-manipulated is what I found myself wondering. Maybe Ansel Adam's methods of getting that high contrast in his photos, translated into color, might do the job. But I say this knowing next to nothing about photography.

My ignorance humbles me far more than does my awareness of something.

And that brings me to Carol's comment. I will have to read some Muir in a form more extended than quotes on Sierra Club posters.

And Randall, I would have dearly loved to have seen what you saw. I know that icestorms are no fun, but to stand under an ice-coated tree in full sun, its branches bent low to the ground . . . "dazzling" does not begin to describe THAT experience.