What Light There Is
It’s a gray, gloomy day in early April. I’ve stayed home from work with a bad cold, and all afternoon, I’ve been listening to the slow drip, drip of rain outside. The purple tulips in their vase on my kitchen table are growing leggy; they’re reaching out, bending and stretching crookedly, for the light that is in short supply today.
We are nearing the end—I hope—of a winter that has felt long, even though we haven’t had too much snow by our usual Boston standards. One arctic blast in December and a couple more since the New Year have left our teeth chattering in single-digit temps, but those frigid spells haven’t lasted long. And the snowstorms, though fierce, have been few and far between. We even had a couple of 60-degree days in late February.
What I’m missing, in these early spring days, is the light.
I grew up in West Texas, where the summer sunshine drenches the plains for nearly half the year. There are few tall buildings and fewer trees to block the sun, and its light floods the (flat) horizon for miles. The sunsets blaze in pink, gold and purple, lighting the western sky on fire every night. My mother, whose Midwestern childhood left her with a distaste for snow and gray days, relishes the year-round sunshine. I didn’t know how much I would miss it until I moved away.
The light here in New England is just as glorious, but in a different way: it’s no wonder, as a visiting friend noted once, that so many artists come to this area to paint. I’ve lived in Boston for nearly seven years, and every year I fall in love again with the glorious golden autumn light, the bold blue skies and sunlight dazzling off the snow in midwinter, the shy glow of early spring sunrises. But the light here is both more limited and more elusive. You have to watch for it, pay attention to it. And it doesn’t always come when you want it to.
I have become, in the past few years, a seeker of the light. Now that it doesn’t pour over my shoulders each day, unasked and abundant, I’ve learned to keep an eye out for it. I can’t make it appear, but I still crave it, and I am learning to watch for—and appreciate—what light there is.
Every morning, I glance out the bathroom window to watch the sunrise, trying to read the clouds to see if we’ll have a fine day. I look out my co-workers’ office windows for a glimpse of the sunlight hitting the brick building across the street, hoping I can slip out for an afternoon walk while the light is right. And my favorite perch at my neighborhood coffee shop is a small bench seat right in the front window, where I can sit with my back against the frosted glass partition and look out at the sky. (When it warms up, I’ll move to the benches outside and do the same thing: tilt my head back and watch the light.)
We abruptly acquired an extra hour or so of daylight when the clocks sprang forward a few weeks ago. The spring Daylight Savings switch is always a little tough for me: I love the additional light in the evenings, but it feels like a tease, since the weather is still cold. This year, many of these spring days have been muted and gray, a pale imitation of the sunshine I miss. I’d rather have a dark, clear, early starry night than this muddy in-between.
We are heading deeper into spring, and I know the gray won’t last forever: the sunshine will return to chase away the clouds, dry up the mud, shrink down the last few patches of dirty snow still lingering in shaded corners. It doesn’t feel true, but it is true: the sun always comes back. I’ve lived here long enough—both in Boston and on this earth—to know that.
Until the spring sunshine comes back in force, I’m watching for it where I can: peeking through the spires of Cambridge on my morning walks around Harvard Square, slanting across the Charles River in the afternoon, breaking through in sudden, surprising flashes as the clouds scud across the sky. And I’m finding it elsewhere, too: in a handful of daffodils from my favorite florist, a spicy chai latte served with a smile at my local coffee shop, the sharp sweetness of a bright orange clementine. These flashes of metaphorical light are just as welcome, and just as vital, as the literal sunshine. I’m looking for both, wherever I can find them.