The Alchemy of Light: Part One–the Winter Solstice

22 December 2011


Art Glass, 2010

Hand-blown glass created late twentieth century, 5 1/2" high x 2 1/2/" in diameter; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2011


Mother Nature provides phenomenon that blends into our day or jolts us into attention. Today is an opportunity to fixate on one of her marvels: the winter solstice that gives us (in the Northern Hemisphere and where I  live on the East Coast of the USA) more dark than light, which has various effects on the human psyche. Fortunately, it is the turning point for the glacial exchange of extended lightless hours for an increase in daylight. As the sun begins its ascent from its most southerly point, the pace toward spring begins. Funny, winter just begun its duty.

This tricky business between the earth and the sun (the relative position of one to the other) is part of what dictates the seasons. It’s also what channels the amount of sun that hits a latitude or longitude at this degree or that. At times some locations will have full days of light, others will have the opposite. All this chatter about the length of day and night brings me to the essence of the conversation: light.

The sun rises, the sun sets. These geophysical realities are embedded in the human experience. Some of us pay homage to its life-giving forces, but more than likely we have other things filling the synapses. Truly, it’s not surprising that the worship of the sun proliferates human history; it makes perfect sense to me. The juxtaposition of light to dark is fodder for religions, muse to the visual arts, feasts for scientific research, inspiration for the literary arts. It’s impregnated in our daily journey, causing plans to change and weather to alter its course. Really, does twenty-first century Homo sapiens give enough praise to one of the most critical aspect of our existence?

What urged me to think about nature’s ultimate weapon for survival? Well, sure the solstice, but photography is so much about the light or the lack of it that I am constantly watching its effect on a hand, the face, a wall, the street, a window, a building, water, the sky (daylight and star-lit  night), a flower, an insect…

Light has been studied since the 1800s. With the discovery of photography in the nineteenth century, a significant change agent was born. In 1919 the first record of a solar eclipse was photographed. The image helped to generate more understanding of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, because it explained the relationship between light hitting the moon and being deflected from it. Obviously, it’s more complicated than my simplification.

Light also is intertwined with the mystery and our understanding of time. Each can and cannot be realized in our rational minds. Light becomes the perfect foil for time, and time the perfect foil for light.

Language changes and rearranges how we perceive a word’s meaning: How a word is coined and used in one discipline (science) and meanders to others (architecture, visual arts, psychology, literature, mythology, religion). Here are a few quotations about light:

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. Carl Jung

Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. Truman Capote

Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep. Le Corbusier

The stars, that nature hung in heaven, and filled their lamps with everlasting oil, give due light to the misled and lonely traveller. John Milton

As I contemplate the complexity of the subject of light, there is the aspect of time-lapse still and video images. For example, the slow movement of the shadows of clouds across a landscape emphasizes the way light plays with our sensibilities and captivates our attention. See this breathtaking video on YouTube, titled “The Mountain” at (I’d be happy if someone would tell me how to insert a video into a post, and then the reader can just click the video to view it. Thanks).

On a “lighter” note, my cat has a new habit, which demonstrates our dependence on this prime mover of nature for a healthy life, or a life at all. Intuitively, she knows the importance of the sun’s gifts. She follows its radiance daily, and her pattern of movement and rest nurture her as the sun’s rays do. But her latest lure is my morning vitamin D. Sure, the angle of the sun is at its lowest. We’ve had a lot of cloudy days, giving her less sunny locations to bask. But really–to hear her jump onto the counter to scoop and eat the small oval pill from the bowl where it sits with my other daily vitamins, I am amused. It’s her sun fix for the day. Isn’t nature amazing.

Light vs. dark, dazzle vs. quiet, strength vs. retreat, dependence vs. interdependence–hopefully, the alchemy of Mother Nature will prevail.

Note: As always I welcome comments about any part of this post.

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2 Responses to The Alchemy of Light: Part One–the Winter Solstice

  1. What a wonderful post, Sally. As a photographer, I too notice light all the time. My eye follows what the sun is showing me, and trying to fight it/go against it, means lots of Photoshop/HDR, and I don’t want to play that way.

    I so wish we, as a society, was more in tune with nature and the sun and the moon too. Just thinking how old they are, how much they mean to us, and this Earth, and I wonder why we still don’t worship them. Sure, they’re not gods, but if there anything close to a god, it would be the sun (at least in my thinking).

    Anyhow, what a wonderful post. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughtful and well written words. Hope your Solstice was good, and have a lovely weekend!

    • Yes, nature is the quintessential master of us, and you are living where the landscape constantly reminds you of Mother Nature’s majesty. And just maybe we would have more worldwide harmony if people could see and feel what you and I do. I extend to your family and you a most joyous holiday this weekend, Sally

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