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.