Friday, November 24, 2017

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. This week's 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. Believe it or not, 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, about the enchanted interval between day and night. 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 almost everything seems to be standing in a stronger light than it is at any other time of the day.

Best of all, there are are crepuscular rays now and again: beams of sunlight made visible by snow or ice in the atmosphere and appearing to radiate from a single point in the sky, usually the sun. The rays occur near sunrise and sunset, streaming through openings in the clouds and pouring themselves out over the earth like molten honey. As they pass through the vapor, the columns of sunlight are separated by darker shaded areas, and the effect is that of a dazzling solar wheel, simply breathtaking and 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, Jacob's Ladder, Stairways 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)  Sun Wheels, Volumetric lighting (a graphic design term).

Once encountered, crepuscular twilights are never forgotten, and it is every photographer's dream to behold a real whopper while holding her camera. In this long old life, I have been lucky enough to look upon them in some wild and wonderful places, shining through ice on Baffin Island, spilling through towering cumulonimbus clouds on Lake Superior, in recent years streaming across a favorite lake in the Lanark highlands.  Painting their way across the burnished waters of my native place, the rays of light always seem like a road to me, and the road is a way home.  No doubt about it, November light is a treasure, and there are vibrant colors everywhere. How could I ever have thought otherwise?


Jenny Woolf said...

It is a beautiful time, but I have never liked the word - it somehow seems too "rustly" ! :) it is that "s" in the middle I think.

Barbara Rogers said...

I love having a camera (phone) handy when I happen to encounter this phenomena. But honestly I can't find any of those pictures. Will have to keep looking up!