Crepuscular rolls trippingly off the tongue - it has a lovely melodic ring, and the exotic brew of consonants and vowels is something one can wrap her mouth around, like a fine bit of saltwater toffee. The word comes to us through the good offices of the Latin crepuscul(um) meaning twilight or dusk, claiming kinship with the Latin crepus/creper meaning murky or obscure. There is no relationship with crepe (as in crepe paper or crepe rubber) as far as I know - that word hails from the Old French crespe and Latin crispus meaning curly, no twilight involved.
Like chiaroscuro, this week's word brings to mind all things liminal, and a rare particular kind of light. It's the perfect adjective for moments at twilight (dawn and dusk) when the enchanted hinterland between light and darkness becomes visible to the human eye, when the world is bathed in a golden glow, and everything on earth seems to be standing in a stronger light than it does at any other time of day.
Crepuscular rays are beams of sunlight made visible by snow, rain or dust in the atmosphere and appearing to originate from a single co-ordinate in the sky (usually the sun). Streaming through apertures in towering clouds, the rays are segregated by darker shaded areas and become spokes, pouring themselves out over the earth like molten honey. It's expressive of the Great Round of time and beautiful beyond words.
Ancient Greeks referred to crepuscular rays as "sun drawing water", an expression arising from their belief that sunbeams drew water up into the sky - it was their "take" on natural processes of evaporation. There are a number of other names for the natural phenomenon that occasionally lights up the sky at the opening and close of day: Buddha’s Rays, Cloud Breaks, Divine Light, Gateways to Heaven, God's Fingers, Jacob's Ladder, Jesus Beams, Jesus God Sunsets, Paths to Heaven, Ropes of Maui (from the Maori creation tale in which the child goddess Maui Potiki snared the sun with ropes and tied it in place to make days grow longer) Spokes of Heaven, Stairways to Heaven, Sunrays, Sun Wheel, volumetric lighting (a term used in graphic design).
Once seen, crepuscular light is never forgotten, and it's a photographer's dream to encounter it while she is outside somewhere and holding a camera. In this long old life, I have seen crepuscular light over Tuscany, dancing across ice on northern Baffin island and flowing through cumulonimbus clouds above Lake Superior, streaming across a favorite lake in the Lanark highlands. Painting their way across burnished waters, the rays always seem like a road to me, and the road being shown is a road way home. Autumn dishes out some fabulous sunrises and sunsets to be sure, but no doubt about it, May's crepuscular light is a treasure.
May 9, 2014
resting easy in friday rambles