Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dutch light in the upper midwest

This has been the sweetest, longest fall since I moved to Wisconsin, nearly thirty years ago.  Never have I been outdoors, actively gardening, so late in the year.  Putting in bulbs, watching (closely) the landscapers and cleaning up the place brings me outside for long stretches far later in the year than normal.  Despite gardening in this same spot for almost twenty-five years (latitude 42 north) it has a been a new experience to actively watch the sun climb lower, far lower into the sky every day.

Of course, the sun does climb lower or higher every day than it did before, all year long, and I know this intimately well in an indoor sense.  I've lived in this same house for enough years to use the various windows as a seasonal sun dial.  In high summer, the light pours in even the north windows, in winter, the light slants in the east windows low enough to illuminate the dust under the kitchen stove.  Yet, absent this long mild fall, I would never have realized that the horseshoe beds in the back (semicircular flower beds arranged around the circular fish pond) are actually not in full sun in autumn, but rather, in the surprisingly deep shade of my neighbor's still-leafy silver maple to the south.  The bed is fully sunny in summer and again in winter when the leaves are off. Yet, ever since the sun has sunk so low along the southern horizon, it has been caught in the maple's still-leafy branches for many hours every day casting deep shade on this normally sunny part of the garden. 

The quality of the light is actually strange--so slant-wise even at high noon as to give the subtle feeling of being on a different planet.  Or at least, on a different latitude of this planet--somewhere like Holland, perhaps (latitude 52 north)  Comparing the slanting light in this garden to the slanting light illuminating their compositions demonstrates that the Old Dutch Masters painted nothing more than the truth when they captured the girl sitting at her desk, the gent with the feather. Watching this garden transformed to a Dutch Master painting for so many hours a day is strange--exhilarating, but profoundly strange.


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