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October 17, 2005

October Light

October has always been my favorite month - maybe because it's when I celebrate my birthday - but more likely, because of the colors and the light. This editorial from this morning's Minneapolis Star-Tribune captured the essence of October for me.

"If you're outdoors this week, you'll see it. October light, on a clear afternoon, seems to illuminate the trees and lawns from within. And individually -- each leaf, each blade, each blossom on the aster glows independent of all others.

If there happens to be drizzle, the mist may seem charged with some kind of current, perhaps the same voltage that makes a clouded sky suffuse faint sunlight like backdrops in a portrait studio. Dawn and dusk tint overcast skies with tones a watercolorist could spend a lifetime imitating.

October light is not imagined -- a few moments' Googling will demonstrate its popularity as a subject for painters, poets and songwriters, and of course the late John Gardner, novelistic champion of nature and small heroism. But neither is it easily explained.

It is not an illusion generated by the turning foliage it illuminates, as many assume, nor the product of the frosts that may or may not precede it. We know a fellow who used to theorize that light grows more intense when compressed within a shorter day, but we've checked with the experts and physics doesn't work that way.

Meteorology, on the other hand, has much to do with the phenomenon. Some years ago the late Bruce Watson of Roseville, a weather-watcher born for the arcane inquiry, explained that atmospheric pressure at this latitude is especially high in mid-October, circling the globe with an unbroken belt of unusually clear air. Humidity is low and so is airborne dust, thanks to sinking masses of cold air.

That's the science, more or less, but of course the most intriguing aspect of October light is not why it happens, but rather what it does. Go ahead and look:
Across the lake, light fog is drifting out of reeds that suddenly seem extruded from brass or even gold. Downtown, sheets of blue-green window glass register shards of their surroundings so sharply you might think every building had been scrubbed and buffed last night.

Walk a familiar stretch of sidewalk, noting how each maple is redder than the last, how the yellows in the hedges seem to hum. These birches here, with the coppery bark -- how is it possible you've never seen them before? And when did chrysanthemums start to come in all these colors?

While you're at it, mark a few weekend hours for getting off your usual routes and just a little ways into the unsettled world -- the fields and woodlands where October light gathers in fullest force, and only for a week or two.

The short gray days are not far off. Too soon, we'll be struggling to remember a world of living color."

Posted by hgroteva at October 17, 2005 8:47 PM | Life