During the spring runoff of 2010, I was invited along on a day-long canoe trip down the Ontonagon River. Most of the trip, our canoe pointed straight toward the sun, which sank steadily toward the tops of the trees ahead during our final few hours on the water.
Toward the end of the day, the angle of the light when the sun is low in the sky can have some spectacular effects.
From a high vantage point, from a bridge or an embankment, the Ontonagon River's rushing, turbid water would have looked orange-brown with the clay the river scrapes constantly from its banks and its bed. But from the perspective of our canoe down on the water, the lowering sun's rays glanced off the surface of the water. Dazzling light danced as if the sun were shining off polished chrome, off pure crystal, off the clearest water imaginable.
Late one day this spring, on the North Country Trail down in the Trap Hills of Ontonagon County, I was hiking through maple forest that had been heavily logged five years or a decade ago. New leaves were just starting to emerge from the buds of the young trees. The sun, once again, was sinking. I stopped from time to time in the shadow of a large tree that remained.
With the tall tree's trunk blocking the sun's most direct rays, I looked out at the young maples. Their new leaves were backlit by the sun's diffuse rays. Diaphanous new leaves glowed like bright green candle flames at the tips of all the branches while shadows gathered in the forest.
Light does noteworthy things at other times of the day. The next time you are in the woods, late in the morning on a sunny summer day, look up into the leaves of a maple or a birch or an oak tree. The sun shines through the translucent leaves. Higher leaves cast their shadows onto leaves below, making silhouettes. These silhouettes describe shapes that shift with the breeze.
In the Keweenaw Peninsula and elsewhere in the Copper Country, our 47-degree latitude gives us long days in the summer. Enough light to get our work done and still get out in the woods, which is good for the soul.
But I am going to end this column about light talking about its absence, and its absence can also be good for the soul. We live in one of too few places in the U.S.A. that is free enough of artificial light to allow us to clearly see the Milky Way stretched across the night sky. And to see the Perseid meteors flashing fleeting streaks of blue and yellow light across the firmament.
The Perseids were in full effect last weekend, as they were when I first set foot on the Keweenaw Peninsula. That was six years ago, and maybe the mystical qualities of highly visible constellations and shooting stars are part of what caused me to pack my bags and and move here.
At any rate, my plan is to stay. I like the way light hits things here.