A Bowl of Light: In the Gilded Hour

Growing up in the South, I was accustomed to a more diffuse quality of light that results from the humidity.  I came to cherish the rare moments of clarity when the air was relatively dry–glorious October afternoons sliding slowly into sunsets that glowed like the heart of a slow burning fire.  The foxfire reflection of Winter dusk against the skeletal branches of leafless trees, or the moment of sunrise seen through those branches–incandescent and magical.  These moments pierced me with their beauty.  It became something I marked in my world.

Moving to New Mexico, while a shock, fed this hunger for the light.  Dusk, much like Dawn in that valley was a source of constant wonder.  I often walked to the grocery store during the Gilded Hour, which is what I called that long, stretching time that precedes twilight.  The Smith’s on Constitution and Carlisle was easily reached by residential streets that ran parallel to the busy Boulevard.  So, rather than go all the way down to the big intersection and then walk the half mile amidst the constant disturbance of traffic, I simply cut down a side street.

This gave me the opportunity to see what had been done to various houses and gardens–what was in bloom, who had put out a new bird feeder, mended the adobe wall by their patio.  But most especially, I walked lost in the light.  There is a special quality to the light in that place during that time of day, and there are no words to describe it to my satisfaction.  No camera can ever quite capture it.  You have to go walking in it.  It is at once gauzy and painfully clear–as if the light had substance and yet floated more freely through the dry, dusted air.  It is nothing short of exquisite. I would watch the way it spilled through tree branches and between houses, how it smeared itself over every surface, the adobe drinking it in roseate hues my eyes learned to see over time.  I never stopped marveling at all the ways the light could change, transforming both itself and the landscape of natural and artificial surfaces.

All too often, a half mile of walking would occupy almost a full hour, because I would stop, and let out a gasp, watching the way an enormous, snowy boule of cloud took that light.  White it was, but also tinctured with azure and saffron, smokey lavender and flirtations with the color pink for which I have no name.  A passerby might have thought me in the grip of a sudden cramp, so much did my sigh sound like pain.  While I was not suffering from a vicious Charlie Horse, I was definitely in pain of a sort.  The reservoir of my Self was overflowing in that moment, and I didn’t care who saw or heard that agony of the ecstatic.

I treasured these moments, frequent though they were in comparison to what I had known before.  Light is different everywhere–no two regions will capture it in the same way for all it comes from the same source.  I remember standing on a street corner more than once, as the sun slipped molten into that crucible of the west, watching the transformation of a city avenue.  The cars moved past me, ghostly in a river of shadows, while the buildings still held the last warmth of light on their westward faces.  I felt no shame that I stood, head thrown back, mouth ajar with delighted laughter, watching a flock of pigeons wheel and angle in that light.  They would swoop up, their breasts and flight feathers etched in bright gold only to turn and dance closely with their own silhouettes on the buildings.  It was mesmerizing, much like watching waves slide up the sand of a dusky beach, receding and returning.

And so, I leave this entry with a question.  Should one hide their pleasure or fail to experience it at all for the sake of modern sensibilities?  Or should we revel in it, regardless of the opinions of others?  Though I may be branded as socially awkward for these things, I don’t know that I could be any other way.  There are too many other things to jade and disappoint to turn away what delights my soul.



3 thoughts on “A Bowl of Light: In the Gilded Hour

  1. You captured very well the varying effects that light has in different places, regardless of the same origin point. I gape all of the time, and rarely does anyone notice me, except perhaps, when I try to take a photograph for a more permanent etching. I believe that we must take infusions of beauty and wonder wherever and whenever we can. Who knows, it may give you the opportunity to point it out to another, who in their hurrying, missed it. It’s only been problematic for me when driving, at times 🙂 Good post.

    Like the song too, that’s a new group for me!

    1. Thank you for your deeply considered reply! I was constantly stopping to gape at the light when I lived in New Mexico–it had such variability, and there were so many fragile moods evoked in the way it fell over the landscape.

      One of the things I have always noted is that when I rhapsodize about light or a single glimpse of scenery, people stare at me blankly. One night I went on about the perfect full moon, hanging whitely in a periwinkle sky above the Sandias that were a the exact color of longing–somewhere between smoke blue and deep watermelon red. My friend, who was on the other end of the message somewhere across the city, said she was looking at the same scene, but didn’t see that.

      I think something in my spirit would die of loneliness if I were so cut off from my experience of the world. To look but never see sounds a bit like hell to me.

  2. You’re welcome! A friend of mine recently said that I ‘see’ differently than he. At first, I didn’t really understand that, but I am beginning to; your post is a perfect example of that differing ability as well. I credit solitude as developing that ability, and a willingness to stop, and admire. We are often too busy, or at least think that we are 🙂

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