Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday Ramble - Crepuscular

Crepuscular rolls trippingly off the tongue - it has a lovely ring to it, and the combination of consonants and vowels is such that one can wrap her mouth around the sounds like a good bit of saltwater toffee. The word comes to us through the good offices of the Latin crepuscul(um) meaning twilight or dusk, and it claims kinship with the Latin crepus/creper meaning murky or obscure. There is no relationship with crepe (as in crepe paper or crepe rubber).  That word hails from the Old French crespe and Latin crispus meaning curly. Crepuscular and crepe are birds of vibrant but differing plumage.

It's all about light and things liminal, the enchanted siren space between darkness and light.  Crepuscular describes the magical hours at dawn and dusk when the hinterland between light and darkness is most visible, when the whole world seems to be bathed in a golden glow, and everything seems to be standing in a stronger light than at other times of the day.

Most of all, there are are crepuscular rays, beams of sunlight made visible by snow, rain or dust in the atmosphere and appearing to radiate from a single co-ordinate in the sky (usually the sun). Crepuscular rays occur near sunrise and sunset, streaming through openings in the towering clouds and pouring themselves out over the earth like molten honey. As they pass through the clouds, the columns of sunlight are separated by darker shaded areas, and the effect is that of a dazzling wheel, beautiful beyond words.

The ancient Greeks referred to crepuscular rays as "sun drawing water", from their belief that sunbeams drew water into the sky - it was their "take" on natural processes of evaporation. There are a number of other names for this natural phenomenon which lights up the sky at sunrise and sunset: 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 graphic design term)

Once seen, crepuscular twilights are never forgotten, and it's a photographer's dream to encounter them while holding her camera. In this long old life, I have seen them through Arctic ice, (northern Baffin island), flaming through cumulonimbus clouds on Lake Superior, streaming across a favorite lake in the Lanark highlands.  Painting their way across the burnished waters, the rays of light always seem like a road to me, and the road I am being shown is a way home.  No doubt about it, November light is a treasure.


Kay G. said...

I did a post about this on my blog sometime this year. You are so right, once you are able to photograph these enchanting rays behind clouds, you never forget it.
Lovely post, thank you.
(And if you don't have a camera, you would remember it in your mind's eye, for always, I hope.)

Siobhán said...

Hi, so glad to have stumbled upon your beautiful blog!

I love crepuscular rays! (Although I didn't know that was their proper name) They're so beautiful and suggestive of the celestial. Maybe it's because I've heard them called 'angel rays' before and like to use that term myself.

You're right, November light is truly revelatory. Already the frosty moon is beginning to light up the sky, shining down its wonder.

A wonderful & very inspiring blog :)