The Way the Light Shifts

The way the light shifts is sudden, like wind slamming shut a door. All day clouds have been gathered seamlessly above, immobile and the colour of slate. Unexpectedly they let in the sky. A thin sunbeam parts the dark, then further streaks swell through, throwing coins of light onto the lakes. They float for a moment before sinking into the deep. And then the sky closes over again, as if it had never been opened.

Not all seasons at this latitude are as open to change as this -the violent incandescence of clouds torn apart, the storm of winds that unstitch the sky. Riding into the warm months these shifts become more common; volatile and unpredictable before the settled spell of summer. While they sometimes bring spring rain, it is the light that falls today, dropping like veils. These wild squalls are fragile displays, as brilliantly short-lived as shooting stars. Light that turns dark before it has a chance to linger; a light too rare to squander.


By the way, Notes from Near and Far now has a page on Facebook for those who are interested. I’ll be using it to post additional photos from Prespa and elsewhere from time to time, along with quotes and links to various writers and environmental news. Please feel free to join via the Facebook button on the right of this page, and to add any links or items of interest.

Many thanks!


29 thoughts on “The Way the Light Shifts

  1. I love the idea of “coins of light…sinking into the deep” and the winds unstitching the sky. As an aspiring photographer, light is everything. Your descriptions of the changing light that is “too rare to squander” is pure soul food. Thank you, Julian.

    I don’t go to Facebook very much, but I will go to see your page.

    1. Thanks ever so much, Cindy, as always. I love the idea of soul food, and am certainly honoured to have the writing described that way!

      What I love so much about writing Near and Far is the input and ideas that are added by its readers. These thoughts stimulate a greater sense of place, in the way that each of us inhabits and speaks from a unique space. So I thought I’d try a Facebook page as a way of encouraging a discussion by allowing readers to add photos and thoughts of their own if they wished or so that I could post additional photos or links to other writers and blogs. We’ll see what happens, but thanks for taking an interest!!

  2. Thanks for this poetic description of a dramatic and fleeting phenomena, something astonishing happens to the light when sunshine and dark clouds mix for that sublime moment.
    Thanks also for including the telegraph/ electricity wire in the last photo. Since photography’s invention photographers have found ways to exclude anything modern or human made from landscape/ nature photography unless its a dilapidated and moss covered building or a quaint arched bridge. A bit like the English lansdscape painters of the 18th and 19th centuries who portrayed a bucolic idyll of peasants lazing in the long grass and buxom milk maids merrily meandering through the mornings tasks while the reality was the brutal enclosure laws removing peasants from the English countryside.

    1. I thought you might enjoy the electricity line, Sid! Any view from the village is neccessarily filled with lines and pylons and yet the quality of light isn’t diminished by their presence. They are another part of the landscape. Love your example of the bucolic idyll; and of course now it’s relatively easy to disrupt modern day reality in photographs through the use of Photoshop. I have a feeling that the removal of unwanted objects like pylons, rubbish bins, and quite possibly people is probably quite common! Delighted that you liked the piece as well. Speak soon,

      1. One photographer who plays with this beautifully is Keith Arnatt who made two very distinctly different pieces around this theme; ‘Area of outstanding natural beauty’ and ‘Photographs from a rubbish dump’, sadly he’s no longer with us and like many of the great artists using photograhy who really explored issues of representation in the landscape, was largely overlooked by the art establishment..American and European photography is much better at embracing work of this nature. Poetry however is so often deeply immersed in nature, the land, wildness etc and fully embraced..Any thoughts?

        1. I don’t know the work of Arnatt but will certainly look into him, (love his titles as well!). What’s also of interest to me in this thread is how contemporary these concerns of landscape representation seem to be. You may or may not agree, but I feel as though they are a particularly modern issue. I’ve just finished reading an extraordinary essay called ‘Notes on Landscape Painting’ by one of the great British naturalist writers which made me rethink this belief, precisely because of the time when it was written. It is a long quote but simply too fascinating to cut. Richard Jefferies writes about his concern for mispresentation of the landscape at a time when the steam-plough and reaping-machine were recent additions to the agricultural field. He wrote the following in 1884.

          “It is, I venture to think, a mistake on the part of some who depict country scenes on canvas that they omit these modern aspects, doubtless under the impression that to admit them would impair the pastoral scene intended to be conveyed. So many pictures and so many illustrations seem to proceed upon the assumption that steam-plough and reaping-machine do not exist, that the landscape contains nothing but what it did a hundred years ago. These sketches are often beautiful, but they lack the force of truth and reality. Every one who has been 50 miles into the country, if only by rail, knows while looking at them that they are not real. You feel that there is something wanting, you do not know what. That something is the hard, perhaps angular fact which at once makes the sky above it appear likewise a fact. Why omit 50 years of the picture? That is what it usually means – 50 years left out; and somehow we feel as we gaze that these fields and these skies are not of our day. The actual fields, the actual machines, the actual men and women (how differently dressed to the conventional pictorial costumes!) would prepare the mind to see and appreciate the colouring, the design, the beauty – what, for lack of a better expression, may be called the soul of the picture – far more than forgotten, and nowadays even impossible accessories. For our sympathy is not with them but with the things of our own time.”

          Quite amazing! And written nearly 130 years ago – though our preoccupations with the pastoral don’t seem to have altered a great deal! It’s part of his book called ‘The Life of the Fields.’ Let me know what you think.

          1. A very interesting and poignant quote, I wish I knew about that book when I was writing my dissertation..
            I think human concern with the pastoral goes as far back as poetry itself..The theme of harking back to a ‘Golden Age’ is found in Virgil’s pastoral poems and probably every movement in poetry and art since. Of course the golden age is purely mythical and always points to a time when life on the land was more bountiful, more equal, more fair etc, hence the painters of the 18th and 19th century depicting a landscape that had long vanished; that idealised and romanticised the life of the English peasantry-interesting that these painters mostly came from the same class (ie the aristocracy), that seized the English countryside through an act of parliament..
            I like the sound of Richard Jeffries and his frustrations at the absence of a representation of the huge changes that were happening to the countryside as a result of the industrial revolution..I’ll read the book when I visit..

  3. Do you paint? Such an understanding and passion for light would lend itself well to such an endeavor.

    I love the first photo especially – puzzles of fields locked together, and a cobalt sky that shudders above.

    1. Thanks for the interesting comment! I suppose writing and taking photos are what emerge from my passion for light, my way of attempting to articulate it. But I’m continually fascinated by how each of us responds in different ways to the sensory world. My utter lack of painting skills doesn’t help the matter, however! Thanks for reading…

  4. “Violent incandescence of clouds torn apart” – love the striking description. The pictures nicely capture the dramatic mood you convey with your words. Found your Facebook page and “liked” it!

    1. Thanks kindly, Barbara! Delighted that you liked the words and pictures as I love this time of year. As I write there’s a tempest blowing outdoors, and snow forecast despite blossom being open on the trees. We’ll see what the morning reveals….and thanks for taking an interest in the new page. We’ll see how it goes! Best wishes and hope you’re well,

  5. Lovely work, Julian. Ever read William Maxwell? Something in your beautiful prose reminds me of his writing. If you’re not already familiar with his work, you could try ‘They Came like Swallows’; I feel sure that you’d appreciate him.

    1. Thanks for the fine words, Pete! William Maxwell is one of those writers whose name has popped up from time to time without me ever having read any of his work. But after your recommendation and a quick look online I’m already intrigued and interested. Thanks for the enticing tip!

      Hope the nuptials went well; only sorry we couldn’t be there to share in them and look forward to catching up with you both in person one day soon….congratulations again!

      love Julian

  6. Hi Julian!
    Your posts allow to stop for a while and see things from other perspective. Today I had an opportunity to observe landscape illuminated by sunlight just after the storm and clouds which were pulled by the strong wind. The light is the most beautiful at that time.
    I recalled the time when I sat by the window with my grandmother looking at the sky and trying to notice a cloud shaped like some object or animal or continent , it was a great fun.
    The clouds and the sunlight, like you described it here (I also liked very much “throwing coins of light onto the lake” : ) ), can give a great performance.

    Looking forward to next post!

    1. Hi Barbara! Thanks very much for the kind words; I really appreciate your compliments and am delighted that you liked the post. I love the description of you sitting with your grandmother and watching the sky pass by! I remember on my visits to Poland being amazed at how vast the sky seemed; the complex arrangement of light and clouds before a storm, especially along the Baltic coast. I think I could sit for hours at the same window! Hope you’re well and looking forward to catching up with your own posts.
      Best wishes,

  7. Light changes everything. The snow-covered mountains against a backdrop of dark sky are something I would never see in my neck of the woods. The contrast is stunning.

    1. Exactly! I’m so often amazed at how a landscape or view I know so well can change so radically within moments according to the light. It is a wondrous thing. And I, of course, love the light off the sea in your neck of the woods!

  8. The poet in you becomes obvious once through the meaningful figures of speech, evoked by your careful observation of even the seemingly insignificant aspects in Nature. Keep on celebrating Nature, I too will be there to be part of it, together with your other readers.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Bindu! Celebrating nature will, I hope, remain an important aspect of many people’s lives across the planet. It is wonderful to know that we are sharing something when we do…

      Best wishes,

  9. GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    YOU ARE REALLY GREAT SIR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    what a nice imagination and also good pictures .our teacher told about you much more .but she didn’t said your name first .then she said to go through the website a wonderful writer wrote about nature very interesting article .pls go through it.iam really thank to my teacher .because she didn’t say about your great article I MISS YOUR ARTICLE TOO…………………………so thanx to bindu mam and also you your great imagination.great I really enjoyed it………………
    by nahila

    1. You are too kind, Nahila! And many thanks to your teacher as well for showing you the website. It is an honour to know you are enjoying it.
      My best wishes,

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