Sometimes light seems to sparkle, to dance on every leaf of every tree, on every ripple in every stream.
After my recent move to Missoula, Montana, soon after the end of the rains and one of the coldest Junes ever recorded and before drought and wildfires glazed the sky with haze, the light was a gift and a blessing in my new mountain home. I am sure that a scientific explanation will provide a greater depth of understanding about how light produces this effect. Perhaps specular reflection creates the pattern, dancing off leaves. Perhaps changes in the direction of light caused by refraction leads to leaping and pirouetting, glissading, a chasseing of one proton after the other across the surface of water. This beautiful pattern enchants in the late afternoon here, but it does not happen everywhere.
I have traveled the world and have only seen this sparkle in a few places. I have seen it on golden afternoons in southern Colorado, during infrequent clear, summer days in Northwestern Washington, once or twice in sub-Siberian Mongolia. This is not to say that light hasn’t infused beauty into every environment I have inhabited or visited, but the sparkle is different here, more unique, more palpable. I look forward to this autumn, to discovering whether light sparkles after the haze has departed.
This haze is everywhere now, produced both exogenously and endogenously by wildfires. I moved back to the intermountain West after a twenty-year exile. During those twenty years I came to love the prairies of the Great Plains, the ululating Sand Hills and rock-strewn Flint Hills. I came to despise humidity. In planning my triumphant return to the dry West, I hesitated briefly, knowing that the West will burn every summer, burn excessively, burn horrifically, for the rest of my life. One of the downsides of understanding Science and Climate Change is the Kassandra effect-foreknowledge of an impending disaster and the insanity associated with no one listening. I had to ask myself if I could live someplace with such a scythe positioned to fall over it for the foreseeable future. Obviously, my answer was yes, but was I prepared for the weeks or months of haze?
Surprisingly, my mind reacted the haze in strange, but familiar ways. First, the haze reminded me of my youth in Los Angeles, of the forested hillsides of the San Gabriel mountains emerging from the smog, of golden sunsets with smog-enlarged suns. Second, the haze reminded me of 1980s lithographs of mountains fading into fog, a mystery hidden behind each ridge. Third, I felt comfort in reminiscing about my former adopted home as the haze translated into prairie mists. I will not bright side such environmental and human catastrophes but find that I can adapt to this new summer season of haze in Montana, if that is the price I must pay for the sparkle.
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