The Shadows Are Black

Yes, this is self-evident. Except this year, having trees and other things cast black shadows is a novelty. Allow me to explain.

Going back to June, I noticed one afternoon, as I glanced out my window on one of our many sunny days, that the shadows had soft edges and a reddish cast. The sky was not obviously smoky, as sometimes it has been, but soft blue and just-a-whisker hazy. The sun cast reddish shadows where black ought to be.

And so it continued all summer. With a few exceptions, usually the morning after a storm, reddish shadows stretched and contracted as the sun crossed the sky. No air-quality warnings (except when fires in CO and NM sent smoke right over us), no red skies (like 2019 and 2020), but the light lacked the usual edge that cut crisp lines of black and white, or black on green. Something muted the sunlight, which also explains why tomatoes and the like failed to truly thrive. High smoke and a solar minimum dimmed the light and the plants just didn’t thrive. We had heat, but not clear light.

That began to change three weeks ago, and really shifted this past week, when a very strong cold front and rain lumbered through, drenching everything in one of those cold, damp weekends perfect for curling up with a good book and hot tea, and not doing outdoor chores. (So you can guess who needed to take out the garbage, and do outdoor chores.) On Tuesday, as I drove home, I was gazing at the brilliant orange and gold trees rising above their still-green cousins, and thought, ‘What’s different about the light?” It wasn’t just that the colors are so striking and richer this year than last, or that everything seems to be changing all at once. No, the very light and sky struck me as harder, clearer, sharper than before. I’d gotten so used to the smoky sun that undimmed light surprised me.

No smoke. No dust. The shadows had crisp edges and pure black centers. Light poured down from a clean-washed lapis blue sky that faded to turquoise, not hazy white-blue. Feathers of white touched the heavens here and there, but didn’t block the light.

Fire-season’s not over, not until snows start to fall into Colorado, but the air has cleared. Even with masses of high clouds blanketing the sky, the light remains white, not reddish-tan. The world is a little closer to High Plains normal, for now.

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4 thoughts on “The Shadows Are Black

  1. Fall is my favorite season of the year. One of the reasons is that everything looks sharper and more crisp. You are right, even when the smoke is not apparent it seems to affect the light and shadows a bit.

  2. Good cold front and rain washed down the fines from even the upper atmosphere (volcanic dust up there). Nothing like a truly crisp day with good light and shadow lines. Got pictures like that on Saturday.

  3. Now that you mentioned it, I ‘noticed’ the same thing down here, but didn’t really connect it. But you’re correct (as usual)! 🙂

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