Ask me for a certain number of dollars if you will, but do not ask me for my afternoons. Thoreau, Journal, 16 September 1859
Often, on this site, I’m tracking something – an animal, a bird flight, a line of words. These few weeks, I’ve been tracking light. It begins atop the white pines that are our tallest neighbors; they catch first sun like upside down paint brushes dipped in light. And then, as I drink the darkness of my coffee, the light slides down the tree until it catches next on a nearby chimney and – on this morning – its thin column of smoke.
Already, by the time it reaches me, the day’s burned nearly 60 of its minutes; already the sun has travelled a good deal along its shallow southern arc. In me, the little pagan stirs; scarcity awakens him. And cold. Absent our Spanish friend, el nino, here, not far beyond the gates of solstice, we seem to be embarked on a real Maine winter.
I go out, looking for a tree to worship. They are many; today I settle on an old one that’s dwindled to trunk. Ringing it is a new scatter of bark, sloughed in circle by the heavy head of a pileated woodpecker. Whole rings of exploratory pecking round the tree, and, in a few spots, the bird has gone deep, gathering in, I suppose, his daily dinner of ants. The host tree stands stoic; the remaining ants are bedded deep inside, the pileated dozes in a live pine’s thick cover. The light has shifted while I look to and read this story.
Fanned across the snowy yard are the shadows of our thin pines. Even in morning, they seem afternoon-long. And soon, the sun will ride down behind a neighboring house, reappearing briefly in the southwest for benediction before the 4:17 dark arrives.
Light will leave the brush-top trees last. A final flare of amber-orange to paint the dusk. Right on time.