07 November 2007

Available light

Flame to fog; temperatures at the century mark to temperatures in the 60s. All in two weeks. Autumn is making its mark, for the moment, on the capricious Southern California non-weather.

I don't like the fog--I never have--but I enjoy the cool and appreciate the damp, at least for the moment. Yesterday, I went for a walk and had goose bumps before I reached the end of the first block. It was a small marvel.

Then there is the time change, which wreaks no small measure of havoc on our household, particularly for the cat, who doesn't live by the clock, but by his stomach, and for me. I am a stranger to the concept of Daylight and Standard time; I learned to tell time in a place where this didn't exist, and still puzzle over the ideas of "fall back" and "spring forward." Twice a year, I have to ask the spouse, "which way are we going?" And he will enunciate slowly, "Spring forward" or "Fall back" as if I'm a rather slow child.

Other than the cat requesting dinner at 8:30 instead of 10:00 and my attempts to get the clocks set to the right hour, the most striking difference wrought by the time change is the quality of the light. It's the odd confluence of the autumnal movement of the sun coupled with a sudden hour's difference as to where it's supposed to be. Though I never seem to notice the difference in the morning, I feel the uneasy sense that I'm late when I leave to pick up the children in the afternoon because the sun is so low in the sky.

I always have difficulty taking photographs in the autumn and winter in California. Something about the light this time of year always tricks my eye. There is an unreal quality to the way it slants through the trees and it lights the outdoors in such a different way. I rediscover this everytime I try to photograph the children for the family Christmas card.

And it is the light, almost more than the change in temperature or the few leaves that fall from the trees, that heralds the end of the year for me.

My brother called today, waiting out his on-call duties, far from home. "I'm bored," he admitted, adding, "but I thought of calling you before I was bored!"

It is more than boredom, though; he is worried and he needs to talk. We have both noticed our circle of friends and loved ones, not widening but contracting as people we have known for years are becoming debilitated and dying. Not just the older generations, most of whom are now gone, but those of our own generation as well.

"I feel like our family is dissolving," he tells me.

We talk for a long time about this, about the problems that both of us see, about possible solutions, about our aging mother. It is not all regret and sadness; the conversation is punctuated by laughter and memory and plans for the future. I'm struck, as always, by how different and how similar we are. I'm struck, too, by the fact that he has placed himself so firmly in his middle years, how he sees himself moving rapidly toward autumn, while I am cheerfully entrenched in summer.

When I think of him, I think of the happy boy with a headful of blonde hair grinning in the photograph that our father took of us years ago for Christmas. Our younger sisters both have goofy grins, and I, the eldest, sit quietly and carefully, my smile tentative at best. The light was poor that day, and our father, a professional photographer, had little patience for his subjects, but my siblings were impervious to that while I sat painfully aware that I was not doing anything right.

I wonder when that changed, when I traded in painful awareness for simply allowing myself to be. Did I spring forward? Fall back? Or did I stop caring which way I was going and just go?

It was chilly today, but my brother's call left me feeling warmed and cheered, despite some of the sad things we talked about. Perhaps it's because different as we are, similar as we are, wherever we are, we see the world in the same light.

Go listen to some good music: "Available Light" from the album Presto by Rush.

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