Friday, October 15, 2010

A certain slant of light


These are the mornings I like best, sitting in my quiet corner of the College Commons, laptop open, coffee at hand. Late October. Sunlight falling aslant on leaves of red and gold, setting them aflame.

Sunlight. Fusion at the Sun's core. Matter turned into energy. Two million years for the energy to bubble up to the solar surface, then eight minutes to speed across 93 million miles of space to fall upon the Earth.

In summer, about a millionth of an ounce of the Sun's depleted mass (multiplied by the speed of light squared) falls each second onto our college campus. In winter less than half as much. A fraction of a millionth of an ounce of matter, turned into energy in the roiling furnace of the Sun's core, tips the balance of the season from summer to winter.

And now the light comes slanting in, burning in the foliage. In a few week's time the limbs of the trees will be bare, and my corner of the Commons locked in a pale and lifeless monochrome.

Winter light. I think of Emily Dickinson's "certain slant of light/ On winter afternoons,/ That oppresses, like the weight/ Of cathedral tunes." Which in turn makes me think of Ingmar's Bergman's film Winter Light, and Tomas, the country parson, struggling with God's silence, torn between an absent deity he wants to believe in and a present love he cannot will himself to accept. As the film ends, the service begins in the almost empty church. The organ lifts its weary tune and Tomas turns from the altar to the empty pews and hopelessly intones, "Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty. All the earth is full of his glory…"

A fraction of a millionth of an ounce of matter. Kindling radiance outside the window, filling the Earth with glory.