Friday, January 31, 2014

Winter Light

A wit could say that a sunrise is a rise is a rise, but the distinction is not in the sun, which is constantly round and white. It's what happens in between here and there that makes the performance. Our atmosphere in winter has tendencies to cold and clarity that orchestrate brilliant dawn skies.Cape Ann's maritime position usually buffers us from continental cold. But if frigid winds prevail our atmospheric clarity goes up in 'sea smoke.' Mists may form as relatively warm ocean evaporation condenses in contact with super-cold air.
Early morning sun imparts its low-angled warmth to a quarry stone. The ice, still in shadow, appears violet.
Toward midday sunlight whitens as it travels through less atmosphere from an overhead position. The granite cools in appearance. 
The spare qualities of light and landscape in winter accentuate forms. Cold dry air sharpens visibility. Details and patterns come into crisp focus.
By late afternoon the light mellows as it once again traverses a greater atmospheric distance close to the horizon. Colors come back to life.
Softer evening light enhances a wide range of tonal patterns. An apron of ice contributes to the February illumination.
A month earlier I recorded an entirely different scene from the same spot, without the ice and under a different sky.
Each moment reflects its own atmospheric personality.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Winter Color

Color discoveries expand a winter outing with a treasure hunt. Your eye happily collects novelties among the monotones of snow, rock, and 'barren' moors.
A resilient pair of oak leaves challenges you to identify their hue. Snow reflects soft light from all angles for careful consideration of brown. But wait, is there mahogany there? Ecru?
Old cherry trees along the trail develop chocolate bark that may have inspired Tucks and Nichols, the local candy-making rivals. Each tree's wounds and twisted trunk record a lifetime battle with the elements. Lichens add decor at no cost to the host.
Other lichens colonize granite surfaces perhaps not so innocently. They contribute to the decomposition that will ultimately turn the rock into soil. Meanwhile they complement an array of earth tones in the minerals. Melting snow brightens the hues.
A nearby patch of blueberries glows in the early light. Their fullest (visual) enjoyment requires your presence at a favorable moment of temperature, moisture, sunlight and atmosphere.
Turning the camera upward reveals the source of optimal optical conditions, cumulus clouds and a cerulean sky above an evergreen tree.
A first glance at the quarry rim says "gray." Arresting streaks of snow initially overpower, then alert us to complexities in the granite pigments. Greens, reds, and blues interplay in a patina like excavated pewter.
At  day's end golden light revises its palette on a quarry wall. Wholeness gathers the scene, absorbing abstracted details into stillness.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Winter Welcome

There's a feeling about the early morning after a snowy night akin to being the first kid downstairs on Christmas day, surveying the gifts still neatly wrapped. Mysterious business had gone on while you slept. An eerie mise en place waited as yet undisturbed.

The light, the land, the snow compose a world in platinum. None of them holds dominion. They commingle to a new and different thing: a seasonal alchemy. Proceeding down the trail I'm reluctant to look back at the trace of first footprints in the snow.
The trail opens to stillness. Snow mixes with air, earth and water to dissolve the edges of each. The landscape detaches from familiar moorings to float on its own horizon.
Past  the quarry the ocean sloshes contentedly. It's its own thermodynamic self, replenished by snow-melt, sculpting lines on the shore according to the laws of watery reunion.
The winter ocean summons another face: colorful, energetic, uncompromising. All you can do is nod and smile respectfully. Rough riders take their chances for thrills or hard-earned professions. Landlubbers admire untamed beauty.
On the fresh water side of the ledges ice reflects extra light up onto the quarry walls. The granite is never so glowing as in winter.
It's a time of year for noticing little satisfactions that might be shrouded by foliage the rest of the year, or shouted down by boisterous colors. Shadows suggest origin stories to ponder. Highlights suffuse surfaces with tints warmer than the air.

What you thought you knew must be reconsidered, stretched, expanded. Nature takes an encore in winter.

If  subtleties have lulled or escaped you, Nature may close the day with a flourish to counteract seasonal affective disorder. Not the butterscotch light of August, but a splendid sky  unique to winter design.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Audrey's Miracle Christmas

The promise of meeting four-month old Audrey sparked our holiday plans. She'd be arriving from Indianapolis with her family for their traditional post-Christmas visit, capped by First Night in Rockport.

When Audrey caught a respiratory bug our plans wavered. As her condition worsened, it looked like Marco might be coming with just the older girls. Then suddenly Audrey was in Community Hospital North, struggling to breathe.

In talking on the phone to our adult kids we listen at least as much for tone as words. Marco's voice reflected disappointment at the cancelled trip, and an unfamiliar parental concern.

When the phone rang at six in the morning Kay and I went on full alert. A few hours earlier during an emergency transfer to Riley Children's Hospital, Audrey had lost her struggle to breathe. Life Line service revived her. Now she lay in the ICU, stabilized, intubated, ventilated, attended by a round-the-clock nurse. The medical staff could optimize collateral care but battling the RSV virus was her own existential fight. If she hadn't won, and smiled winsomely at us ten days later, I wouldn't be introducing her to you now.

We shared a week on two simultaneous wavelengths, the choppy riffs of anxiety and the uplifting swells of love. Kay and I spent the days uptown with Lillian (7) and Vivian (4), nurtured by family friends. Julie vigiled with the baby. Marco took care of everybody's business from downtown headquarters at the Ronald McDonald House, a residential sanctuary on the hospital campus.

We'd walk through these doors to our daily mid-afternoon family rendezvous. The first thing you see is an enormous toy box where every child can rummage freely among the donations for something to keep. Everything says welcome, an all-expenses-paid hostel with vaulted ceilings and fireplaces for bewildered families.

Upstairs, a plaque on the door of their room carried the name of a corporate sponsor. We'd catch up on news, open mail, then head over to the hospital.

All the buildings seemed to be named for benefactors like the Simon family that owns our North Shore Mall, although the hospital itself honors Indiana native James Whitcomb Riley, 'The Children's Poet' who authored Little Orphant Annie.

By six o'clock we had to be back at the Ronald McDonald House for dinner, home cooking served by spirited groups from all over the area. We had the amazing experience of charity, of lining up to be sustained by people we didn't know. Many of the volunteers had had their own lives touched here in years past, not always with the gift of successful recovery. Dinner began with a prayer.

From the eighth floor of the pediatric wing we looked down on a rooftop helipad for the neediest patients. We could see the monorail called "The People Mover" that wound around the campus carrying faces with every sort of story and concern. We always had our eye out for wagons in the long corridors.

Our medical news became cautiously optimistic. Our wonderful Audrey was extubated and held by Mom and Dad. We wondered how to give thanks.
As we became aware of her real personality we saw a twinkle in Audrey's eye and a bit of swagger. Marco dubbed her a real cutie, but watch out guys because she's going to be the toughest kid on the playground. He stumbled through a rendition of the Elvis song he'd sung at her first homecoming, "I can't help falling in love with you."

Audrey greets 2014


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Wild Wind

                              Wild wind, you’re a dragon of air
                                     roaring above the water,
                                     flicking your tail
                                     to drive waves ashore. 
                             The clouds scamper away.
                              You romp in their space,
                                      tickling the sea surface
                                      with ruffle prints,
                                      inserting your real power deeper down
                                      to drive waves ashore.  
                            Your repertoire with light
                                     presents all possible greens and blues,
                                     whips froth
                                     and a dash of rainbow
                                     to glamorize the shore.  
                         Wild wind,
                                    when I lean into your push,
                                    you pluck and pull.
                          You cross over in jest,
                                    blowing rooster tails across the waves.
                           It’s a chore flying through you. 
                              It’s your day.
                                     Weightless fliers
                                      welcome gravity
                                      to hold them to earth.  
                              You’re boss.
                                     Your bluster
                                     dissipates in lace. 
                              Wild wind, you have painterly flair,
                                       an opalescent eye
                                       iridescent breath
                                       rambunctious brushes.

Photographs by Joel Ray, Andrews Point, December 1, 2013.