Sunday, January 3, 2010

Hanging the midday sun

In a North Shore winter, in early January, the sun is low all day long. At noon today, the Duluth sun was 27 degrees above the horizon. We're ten days past the equinox, but the midday sun hasn't climbed more than a degree.

No, I was not out there at 2 below with a sextant to measure the angle. I looked it up at NOAA's Solar Position Calculator. I was out there at 2 below, but with skis and a camera instead.

I skied the 5K of trail at Hartley Field (that's page 42 in Skiing the North Shore) at midday. Halfway around the Outer Loop, I noticed it had suddenly become dark. I scanned the sky for a cloud, thinking a big dark one must have passed overhead. But it was only blue sky as far as I could see.

Instead, I'd skied alongside a small Duluth ridgeline. Here, at 11:30 AM, the sun had already set for the day and the snow had turned a dusky purple.

The low sun makes for high beauty. As I skied along, camera ready, I kept looking through the trees and snow for shots of sunlight working its magic. Doing this reminded me of a favorite Japanese poem from Steve Van Matre's collection The Earth Speaks:

I hung the moon
on various
branches of the pine.

I imagined the ancient Zen poet doing exactly the same thing as I was doing, using the forest to frame the light, "hanging" the sun like another Christmas tree ornament off in the woods.

Maybe I'm a performance artist after all.

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