The Hanukkah candles burned bright at our house this week, with as many as four menorahs at time. The neighborhood is alight with festive bulbs. And last night -- for the first time after nearly 10 days of ice and rain and fog and gloom -- I saw the moon.
All of this got me thinking about winter light. The sun is not up when we put kids on the buses in the morning, and I exercise in the cold at dawn. The first few minutes are brutal, but the light is extraordinary -- pink and yellow, deep shadows, reflections off tiny ice crystals of frost.
The night winter light simply doesn't exist. Street lights barely make a dent in the shadows. The small crescent moon was bright in comparison to the deep winter dark.
The ice storms in Oklahoma -- just a few hundred miles southeast of us in St. Louis -- reminded me of the devastating ice storms here last year. Actually there were two, about five weeks apart, that knocked out our electricity for seven days each. One was in December, the next in January. The darkest times of the year.
The times of Winter Light.
I was in the midst of working on the White Series when we lost electric the second time. Alone in the 36-degree house at midnight, the kids were farmed out to warmer places and I was trying to keep the dogs and cat and fish and tortoise warm and the water pipes from freezing. I was also bored. I used the last of the D batteries in the portable radio-TV to watch Boston Legal and some moronic reports on the local late news about what I was supposed to do if I didn't have electricity! I tried reading by candle light, but the dark was so deep the light didn't extend very far. And candles flicker -- duh! -- which changes the light and makes it hard for me to read.
I watched the candles instead. The quality of the light and the blackness of the dark were stunning. There was no ambient light. No moon. No streetlights. No TV glow. No stove pilot light. Most of the houses in the neighborhood were empty so there weren't even flashlights beaming about.
Just the small glow of two candles on my kitchen table producing a flicker of winter light. It was too much to resist. That I found my equipment amazed me. I kept fogging up the viewfinder with my breath, but the results were good: White, Variation #11.