Emily Dickinson knew that in the winter, afternoon light has a particular quality–a certain slant–that sets it apart. On winter afternoons, the light angles low on shadow-strewn snow, and the landscape is shot with hues of blue and gray. Dickinson felt the heft of those certain slants; she deemed them an “imperial affliction” whose imprint is indelible. On winter afternoons, those certain slants are enough to slay you, the warmth of spring seeming as unattainable as the glaring white sun.
And then there is the afternoon light of autumn. I can quote no poet who captures it, this light that burns warm like gold or copper, filtered through a veil of lingering oak and maple leaves. Whereas Dickinson’s certain slant of winter is the light of loss and longing, the burnished brightness of autumn is intrinsically nostalgic, the whole world tinted like a forgotten sepia-print.
On winter afternoons, you mourn a sun that’s already gone; on autumn afternoons, you rejoice in a sun that’s in the process of going: a Now that’s hastening toward Then. Autumn light lingers long enough to break your heart, looking back as it leaves, tossing golden beams over one shoulder as a radiant reminder of its passing. Autumn light loves the look (as I do) of dried hydrangea blossoms, each petal outlining in vein and line the arc of afternoon’s exit.