A most hopeful light

Nimbin light

We designed our bedroom to handle the light of the Australian sub-tropics. We used hundreds of CAD shade diagrams and tried to honour some basic feng shui principles. So a narrow window admits morning sun along the eastern wall. Just a glimpse, a shard of light. But in the winter (almost intentionally) the paler morning sun glances off the glass in the door opposite. It makes delicate pattens on the western wall.

I turn over to face it, greeted by sparkling. Awash with brilliance.

That light is so Australian.


But it’s not my favourite light.

Nimbin bedroom window 2013OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA



Grey Vancouver

I grew up (if you could call it that) in a damp, foggy, grey place: Vancouver. My father called it “Canada’s Evergreen Playground”, an advertising term he’d heard on the radio, I think. I called it grey. Living in Norgate Park in the fifties was not what you’d call a totally pleasant experience. Vancouver was dreary. Some days there were terrible smells from the fish plant and it was always foggy.

We lived near the Inlet and I’d wake in the night to the foghorns’ mournful wail. I thought it was just a foggy place, but it was actually the smoke from the sawmills’ beehive burners. Most of the fog disappeared when the mills were torn down. But the weather was still awful.

 

hazy horizon

 

In Vancouver, it was never actually sunny. Just less grey.


We had a hundred names for rain like the Eskimos have for snow. “Just spitting” was one of those.

 

New Haven light

When I was twenty, I married (largely to escape my family, the fog and the rain) and moved to Connecticut. Different light altogether. The summers were steamy and unpleasant. And the winters: well, if your car would go, they were beautiful. Snow was always on our horizon. We had a 1952 Cadillac with all the windows stalled at half-mast.

In our first New Haven winter,   the AAA started the Green Dragon (aka the Sponge on Wheels) nineteen times. In March, they wrote to say that nineteen was enough, already. No more starts.

Winter snow was challenging in an old car.

 

But the light.

 

Oh, the light!

 

New Haven light.

 

I remember waking early on a Sunday morning and sensing that something magical had happened. The light from the kitchen window in our small apartment at 98 Edwards Street is what I remember most. Something bright, almost silver, seeping into the drab interior spaces and enlivening them.

It had snowed while I slept.

 

Bottom left: our kitchen window 50 years later

Bottom left: our New Haven kitchen window 50 years later



Children remember the silence of an overnight snowfall.

 

I remember the light.

 

Raffi’s light

Last February, I lived in Charlestown in Boston for three weeks. It was heaven. My cousin would have to be the most generous person alive: he made an entire apartment available to me, kitted out down to the napkin rings. It had everything.


I
had everything.

It was very snowy in Boston, which is one reason I had to move there.

 

I discovered, my first morning, when I wandered into Raffi’s kitchen, that it had the New Haven light: the silvery light I loved so much. I guess it’s actually New England light. But I had not seen it for nearly fifty years. To me, it’s blessed with sweet memories of hopefulness. I was twenty: my “escape” was accomplished and my new life was beginning. Nurtured by New Light.

 

Raffi's kitchen, February 2013

Raffi’s kitchen, February 2013

 

 



The unfamiliar/familiar light in Raffi’s Charlestown kitchen stopped me in my tracks. I had to sit down and consider it.

 

New Haven light.

 

The place I stayed the day before – in suburbia – had none of that light.

 

So I considered that Raffi’s light might be the product of something more: the sum of many sensations. Maybe the age of the building (1906), its design, the closeness and design of the neighbouring buildings, the shape of the window, the old glass, the old window frame, the blind, the orientation of the building, the architecture of the kitchen…

 

No matter: it was the New Haven light. I basked in it!   Sidling up to its pale luminescence, cradling my mug of tea, I felt comforted. Safe.

 

Hopeful.

Through Raffi's window

Through Raffi’s window



That got me thinking about place attachment. We’re such territorial animals, us humans. Hard-wired to love and protect our territories.

 

It might be difficult for planners to evaluate “love of light” as a place-attachment criterion. But I think it’s worth a shot.

 

For me, one beam of New England winter light is the light to have.

 

A most hopeful light.



 

 

 

4 comments


  • So beautiful, Wendy, thank you! In our city apartment we have so many lights each day, and so many angles through which it comes. Sometimes too intense, sometimes not bright enough, but always alive. Incidentally there’s a lovely description of foggy light where sea and sky mix in Robert Macfarlane’s book Old Ways chapter called ‘Silt’
    David Wilmoth

    08/18/2013
  • Wendy,

    My whole life, I have had what I thought was a private conversation with light. I associate it with my private sense of direction, because it is very difficult for me to get lost – I always know where North is. I remember places immediately by the quality of the light in the sky – one of the few reasons I remember Florida with some fondness. I remember having exactly the feeling you describe when moving to Boston. We lived in Framingham, across the Charles, that first year, and it was incredibly hot when the school year was just starting, but when the feeble snows of Boston started, I was in heaven. The light was remarkable – and mixed with the Cambridge buildings, it was a Disneyland for me.

    -Mark-

    PS – I don’t think it has ever, once, been foggy when I was in Vancouver. Global warming, perhaps, or just luck?

    08/19/2013
  • nadia

    While you couldn’t wait to leave Vancouver, I couldn’t wait to find Vancouver. Sometimes you don’t know what you need until you find it and then you wonder how you ever lived without it. That’s how I feel about Vancouver and I suspect that’s how some people feel about the City that I lived in before calling Vancouver home.

    In the photo of Vancouver’s coastline all I can see is light, hope and possibilities.

    08/19/2013
    • Oh, Nadia: You are Vancouver’s greatest lover! (You know what I mean!) I see you as so deeply embedded in Vancouver — in all its nooks and crannies, its lovely places. And when you speak to me about Vancouver, I experience the immense GRATITUDE you have for your adopted city. Toronto is cool, true. But you are definitely a Vancouverite. Blessings, Wendy

      08/19/2013

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