The truth about light

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Sometimes you don’t notice the qualities of light until you don’t have it any more. The way it bends things in the late afternoon or freezes life like colored-stone sculptures in the early morning.

I remember growing up in the Willamette Valley with that miniature Mt. Fuji called Hood towering over the Cascade foothills and making me dream of walking up its whipped-cream slopes.

Some days it seemed like it was in my backyard, as if I could spit and reach its summertime Appaloosa appearance. And other days it receded into the haze or fog or clouds as if in a fit or mood or tantrum.

A trick of the light brought the mountain to my doorstep and pushed it away into the far distance.

The night light is a beast of a different dimension altogether. It makes you work harder, and like all hard-gained rewards, it is sweeter.

I once saw stars of various colors at the top of a very tall mountain in Hawaii, in a place where there were no lights and where you felt like you could step off into outer space. Blue giants, red dwarfs, the heavens looked like a celestial pinball game.

Man-made light will never surpass the intensity and life-giving aspects of natural light, but there is something intensely beautiful about the way we try. Our tower-of-Babel attempts to mimic the creative force of the Big Bang light show hurtling us through the universe.

A few blocks east of where we live, there is a building with a staircase in the middle that zig zags like a lightening bolt. Each floor is lighted a pastel hue that colors the building like a bright marker stroke on a white sheet of paper or a rainbow sand stick.

In the darkness of morning, a time when all light seems to have disappeared completely, this building makes me stop and pause. In the hours of early afternoon, when the winter sun is at its most intense, I notice the Chugach Mountains draped in billowy folds of creamy snow reflecting the sun like a jagged-edged mirror. But driving through town, I notice the oil buildings shining in sun-beat copper-tinted blasts of four-sided prismatic decadence. You can’t help but notice.

At this time of year, when the sun begins to settle low on its already low northerly arc, the soft, warm rays color snow like through rose-tinged water and wash dirty snow streets with an East L.A. hazy look of late August and smog you can just see through to the brown-washed San Gabriel Mountains.

Then it’s gone again, the light. It fades quickly to salmon-pink streaks in a slate-blue sky I’ve never seen before in the Lower-48.

Murky light moving in twin beams of headlights zooming through town and red lights like all the bad connotation of the districts they’ve come to represent make the computer-weary eyes wearier still.

I’ve never thought about light as much as I’ve thought about it here in Alaska. I’m conscious of when the sun rises and the games light plays on morning windshields and distant mountains, making Sleeping Lady look like a white-robed starlet stretched out on a white animal skin.

I’m aware of the loss of light in the late afternoons. Watching through floor-to-ceiling windows in my office as the light fades fast like before a movie starts.

Light is an individual experience. There are those who live without it in the heart of the cold, cold winter. There are those who may never notice it in the overwhelming warmth of the tropics. Some are sad as soon as the sun sets and others are restless in the midnight sun, unable to feel the natural rhythms in the blinding 20-hour daylight and four-hour twilight of July.

Light is always. Even in the dark, our eyes adjust to soak light out of nothingness.

And I’m comforted by the light on snow in the darkest dark and in between the sunsets and sunrises. I’m grateful to be aware of the light as I’ve never been aware of it before.

Even the Big Dipper and the North Star on the deep blue backdrop of the Alaskan flag speak of light.

It’s not the dark that gets you in Alaska, it’s the light.

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