Rah, rah!

You might say I’m a collector of shadows, considering I have a Flickr tag and blog category devoted to them. So when I saw today’s Photo Friday theme, Shadows, I knew I’d have to go no further than my own photo archives to find an assortment of images to share.

Shade tree

Scissorhands with shadows

I stand as nigh

Fire escape shadows

Towering, with shadow

Shadow selves

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Shadows.

Looming large

I’m not surprised the groundhog saw his shadow yesterday given how long and looming Reggie’s and my shadow-selves have been this past month.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Tall.

Yard rake with shadow

March is an aesthetically challenging month: the season of visual doldrums. As much as I thrill to see the first snowdrops and crocuses, in March the rest of the ground is bare, the monochrome earth unadorned with snow and the glaring sun unmitigated by sheltering leaves. Recent days have been been bright, but the light of March is harsh and unforgiving, carving shadows like slashes on the cold, hard ground. In March, my eyes have grown tired of days that are paradoxically bright and cold, and my very cells themselves feel starved for color more than contrast.

String of pearls with shadow

In checking my blog-archives for this time last year, I see I suffered the same affliction, taking pictures of shadows for lack of anything better to shoot. When I was new to blogging, I thought dry spells meant my creative juices were drying up for good: I hadn’t seen enough seasons to realize the way inspiration ebbs and flows in its own time.

These days, I know to keep walking, keep squinting, and keep shooting even through the glaringly monochrome days of March, trusting that both color and inspiration will return with the gentle days of spring.

Afternoon shadows

In the summer, sunlight poured down hard and bright, casting sharp-edged shadows as if carved in stone. Now in autumn, late afternoon light languishes in softness as it trickles down aslant, kissing surfaces with only a subtle hint of darkness. Summer light makes a bold statement; autumnal light skirts around the edges, smudgy.

This is my contribution to this week’s Photo Friday theme, Softness.

Grapevine with shadow

When I saw today’s Photo Friday theme, In Shadow, I knew I’d have a difficult time choosing one image to share. J and I have an ongoing joke about my fondness for taking pictures of shadows; whenever we go walking, J knows that if I stop and aim my camera down or toward an otherwise unremarkable wall, I’m probably shooting a shadow.


I’m so fond of light and shadow, I have an entire blog category, a Flickr photo tag, and several photo sets devoted to them. I admire the way shadows simplify objects by streamlining them into mere shape; shadows, like photographs, condense three dimensions into two. I also marvel at the way shadows define presence through absence: because light isn’t here, some sort of object must be there. I love to watch the shadows of overhead clouds, for instance, roll across a landscape, and I’ve spotted more than a few overhead hawks and crows because their shadows have passed beneath my earth-bound feet. I’m intrigued, too, at the multiple meanings of the word “shade,” for the dark shape cast by slanting light both embodies the essential shape of a given object but also its transience: shadows, like the bodies that cast them and the ghosts they leave behind, are here today and gone tomorrow.

Three umbrellas

Yet, shadows are even more transient than that, for anyone who has spent an entire day meditating inside a well-lit Dharma room knows how oddly entertaining it can be, when you have nothing to do but sit, to watch your own shade–the upright shadow cast by your torso as it sits centered on your cushion–move around you like a sundial’s hand: here in morning, there in afternoon. Just like your thoughts, ephemeral shadows cast by clouds race across the floor before your downcast eyes: who knew that a quiet wooden floor had such daily dramas played upon it, unnoticed?

Due to a congenital quirk, J has trouble perceiving visual depth: to him, the world looks flat, not contoured. Rather than seeing the world in three dimensions, he sees it in two, with both shadows and objects looking like flat patches of color. Given this optical oddity, it makes sense that J is an excellent photographer: whereas the rest of us have to imagine how a three-dimensional scene would look when flat and framed, J’s eyes already focus on the bare essentials of color and line. Shadows, too, simplify a scene by eliminating the extraneous details of depth and distance. The sun is millions of miles away, but right here, underfoot, she announces her presence in shadow.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, In Shadow.

Three umbrellas

This afternoon one of my teaching colleagues remarked on the seemingly miraculous ability of our students to shed clothing at the slightest sight of sun. He’s right. The temperature when I dressed this morning was in the 30s, so I left my house in a fleece jacket, turtleneck, jeans, socks, and shoes whereas students in my afternoon classes arrived in T-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops.

Three umbrellas

Already, the campus quad has been claimed by Frisbee-throwers and at least one sunning student with a blanket, despite the still-soggy ground underfoot. Students just can’t wait, it seems, to enjoy sunny days lazing on the lawn, lumping their sun-worship and open-air naps under the category “studying.”

I can hardly blame them. Although I didn’t spend any time today lazing on the lawn, sunning myself, or napping in the fresh air, I was happily hurrying toward home when that colleague of mine remarked about our amazing, spontaneously shedding students. Home at last, I shed my coat, swapped shoes for sandals, and took Reggie for a long anticipated stroll in the afternoon sun. My student days are long over, but the sun is good for walking in any season, and spring shadows wait for no one.

Construction webbing shadow, with triangle

Spring shadows seem harsher than those from any other time of the year, as if the newly bare earth and pavement have been lacerated with light. In these bleak, blasted days of cold mornings and mild afternoons, the landscape is still monochromatic, with only planted crocuses and snowdrops offering a respite of color. In a starkly black and white world, shadows seem shocking, gaping wounds on an otherwise whole world. The ground seems scarred with striations as the sun shifts from one horizon to the other: wounded and waiting for the healing cover of fresh vegetation.

Click here for the complete photo-set of “Light and Shadow” images, shot these past few days in Keene. Enjoy!

Table for two

These geometric shadows tell the story more clearly than I can. The spring sun has arrived in Keene, and Main Street is bustling with people strolling, sitting, and otherwise soaking up the light and warmth we’ve craved all winter. Sunny days are here again, and it’s all but impossible to stay inside.

Shade trees

Noticing is addictive. Once you see one tree silhouetted against a building, you start seeing shade trees–the upright ghosts of living trees outlined as shadows on nearby vertical surfaces–everywhere you go.

Shade trees

I’ve talked before about color-collecting, the practice of choosing a particular color (say, red), and then taking a walk in which you try to notice every instance of said color (a stop sign, a passing jogger’s hat, a parked car, a cast-off Coke can). The first time I talked here about color-collecting, I reasoned “If we’re going to travel the territory of our mundane lives, we might as well notice the neighbors.” Now nearly four years later, I find myself nodding emphatically to my own argument. What better way to make yourself at home in your environs than by getting to know your neighbors, both the actual trees you meet and the ghostly shades they cast?

I took today’s photos last weekend, and over the intervening days, I’ve been seeing tree shadows everywhere: on buildings, on cars, on fences, on other trees. The natural place for any shadow to lie is on the ground, shade gravitating like water to low places. But in a forest of trees or a suburb of houses, there are many available objects to catch any given shadow. Presumably any of these shades would prefer to lie lazily on snow-blanketed ground, but instead, they’ve been snagged on verticality. Can you imagine the courage of an east-facing facade that stands unmoving even while knowing the weight of a shade tree will fall upon it every sunny morning?

Shade trees

In the summer time, these shade trees are shapeless and amorphous: dark blobs that bespeak the leaves of others. In a snowy season, shade trees are stripped skeletal, the shadows they cast tracing their inner anatomy. In summer, we see superficially, lulled by the loveliness of leaves; in winter, all that gets cast away like so many veils, and we see (truly) what lies beneath.

Some say shadows are unreal, the lingering after-affect of light and enlightenment. But why should we privilege the cause over the effect? Once a tree has grown, we have no use for its now-split seed; once we’ve reached our own adulthood, we’re discouraged from behaving as babies. Leaves are arboreal flesh, branches arboreal bones, and tree shades arboreal spirit. If over-arching trees add value to shady suburban homes, why wouldn’t the winter shadows these same tree cast be likewise prized?

Click here for the complete photo-set of shade trees. And while you’re collecting all things arboreal, click over to the March 2008 Festival of Trees, currently hosted on Orchards Forever. Enjoy!

Interior demolition

Yesterday morning’s dog-walk was sunny, with the kind of low-angled light that makes for good shadows. When you walk the same streets nearly every day, you become a connoisseur of local light, someone who notices when the light is shining this way rather than that. Yesterday’s dog-walk was sunny, and Reggie and I walked early, so the rising sun was glinting through the east-facing window of storefront in downtown Keene that’s in the process of being gutted. In low-angled morning light, the dirty window that had shrouded this process the afternoon before suddenly became transparent, and I could see the previous day’s demolition illuminated as if on stage.

Alien eye

I don’t go looking for local light shows; they just happen to happen when I’m out and about. If you walk the same old streets enough times in enough weathers, you’ll grow accustomed to the same old sights, and that makes it easy to see something Different and Unusual when that sort of thing decides to happen. I’m sure that there have been alien eyes my entire life and then some, but I started to notice them only upon moving to Keene with an antsy dog. Several weeks ago while walking with friends in a new-to-me-neighborhood, I found myself interrupting the usual conversation to point out an afternoon specimen.  “See? There. The same old light reflected and refracted in an unusual way. Now that you’ve seen it, you’ll start seeing it everywhere.”

But truth be told, I’m not sure my friends or anyone will start seeing alien eyes everywhere: my predilection for noticing light and shadow seems to be an acquired thing, an obsession that few others share. Yes, there are the likes of Shadow Steve walking the streets of New York, but elsewhere and among other folks, you have to point to something a bit more exciting than reflected light on a wall to make headlines. What’s the big deal behind another bit of reflected light?

Tree with shadow

And so you may or may not be surprised to hear that my own viewing of last night’s total lunar eclipse was only partial. Around 9:00, I checked the skies from inside my warm apartment to see whether it was clear, and yes, I could see the celestial bangles of Orion’s belt. At 9:30, I pulled boots and coat over my pajamas–yes, by that time of night, my own moon is surely settling toward the horizon called sleep–and went outside to see a half-slivered, half-silvered sphere hovering above my backyard. By 10:00 pm and beyond, I was nestled inside, imagining the half-slivered moon as completely shade-stained as I remembered past eclipses and the way something as simple as a shadow turns the usual flat white disk into a smoky orange popping from the sky with three-dimensional intensity.  In other words, my desire to see last night’s total eclipse was itself eclipsed by other desires, the warmth of my own apartment and its awaiting bed exerting a gravitational pull I couldn’t resist. Nestled in for the night, I knew someone like Dave would take and share pictures better than any I could. A lunar eclipse, after all, is something everyone stops to take note of, giving someone like me the night off from noticing.

This morning, though, was something else entirely. Walking Reggie before sunrise, we both were greeted by the same old non-eclipsing moon shining its flatly white, entirely ordinary face over the the center of the street as we set out in the frigid chill. Did this morning’s moon look a bit sheepish as it shone with the usual monthly fullness, embarrassed at the unaccustomed attention it garnered last night? Shadows are an everyday occurrence, but eclipses are rare: this isn’t the fault of the moon but of our imperfect and obstructed view, purely a matter of perspective. This morning, the only other folks out were drivers headed toward the morning shift at the local factory, and I doubt they’d stop for something as simple as shadows on the moon.