The weather and the light in the area of my new home can be amazingly beautiful. We've "enjoyed" a sinister heat wave here for the past week or so—it's gotten up to 63 degrees*, and day after day has been in the 50s. Our snow is gone and the days are sunny, or partially cloudy, and Springlike. It's extremely pleasant as well as naggingly frightening. Yesterday afternoon, walking the dog, the light was just astounding—the sun peeking through the clouds and playing off the lake, the air pearly with moisture. Like walking through some mystical fantasyland from a fairy tale. I've been lax; I should never go anywhere without a camera. Never. Anywhere.
One of the peculiarities of the area is that Keuka Bluff, which rises steeply more than 700 feet above lake level, is quite close, because the lake is narrow. It blocks maybe ten degrees up from the horizon. So from where I am, the sun "sets" behind the Bluff something like 15 or 20 minutes before it sets behind the curvature of the Earth. The light in those minutes is interesting—it extends the period of dusk. I've come to call this "Bluff sunset," and I've made a game of trying to detect, just from the change in the light, the moment of actual sunset. I've gotten pretty good at it.
Bluff sunset leads to some spectacular views, most of which I miss because I don't have an unobstructed view from my house. But yesterday evening I stopped the car at one of the few cleared areas along the two-lane highway up above me because I saw a patch of blue sky through some dark clouds. Here's the picture I stopped for...
...Not that big a deal. But once I was out of the car, I noticed that the ridge of the bluff to the South looked almost exactly like it was on fire, because the sun was approaching the ridgeline from above...
So I decided to wait around. Here's the sun "setting" behind the Bluff...
But then here's what I thought was really cool. For a few minutes after the sun itself disappeared but still before sunset, the clouds let some rays through from the other side of the Bluff...
Isn't that cool? It was just intensely pretty. I hadn't expected it at all.
I think people here drive right past sights like this. It's just ordinary. No big deal. Makes me wonder how much I miss around this area all the time.
Meanwhile, looking more to the North, you could still see plain blue sky past the clouds, because the sun was actually still above the real horizon.
Maybe somebody can fill in some of the terms I'm missing here...are there actual names for when the sun "sets" behind a mountain, or for when it sets below the theoretical horizon? I don't know any meteorological or astronomical terminology.
Anyway, it kind of made up for earlier in the day, when I'd seen that magical light at lakeside but didn't have a camera.
A few weeks ago I experienced another amazing thing (did I write about this already? I can't remember). It was a mainly clear day and I was out in the back yard flinging the ball for Butters, and I saw a vast lump of bizarrely dark cloud mass start to loom over the Bluff; but I could see blue sky on either side of it. As it grew, it became obvious that there was snow falling furiously beneath it, and that it was headed straight at us and moving fast. The falling snow obscured the far shore of the lake behind a veil of undifferentiated gray, then moved across the lake, and before I knew it we were right under it, Butters and I. The light darkened dramatically and the sky above was dark, and we were buffeted by winds knocking this way and that, and snow was flying, falling in thick swirls. As the cloudmass continued to move off to the East, there were just a scant few astonishing minutes when I could look toward the waterfall in the southwest corner of my yard and see a virtual blizzard, with snow falling thickly and the sky a grim dark gray—and then turn around a hundred and eighty degrees and look out toward the lake, from the direction the snow-squall had just come from—and see nothing but sun and blue sky again, the far shore clear and sharp! A few minutes more and the cloud-mass was gone past the steep hills, and nothing was changed from before—a pleasant, sunny, clear, blue-sky day, only now there was a frosting of snow on the grass and the trees.
Less than half an hour more, and that was gone too. Just an isolated snow-squall barreling along from West to East, and we happened to be right under its path.
The Finger Lakes. I'll tell ya, it's a show.
*68°F today. Creepy.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
giulio croce: "That's the reason why I love photography. It forced me to look, and thus allowed me to see."
David Babsky: "Regarding 'a micro-blizzard,' when I first visited New York (in 1984, I think) the doorman at the Empire State Building—which was just about to close for the day—told me that sometimes it's bright and sunny down at street level, as it was that day, but occasionally, while that's happening down there, there's snow swirling right up at the top! Wow. I took the last lift skywards...and there, at the top, there was indeed snow falling, but the updrafts never let the snow drop as far as the street below. What a sensational delight!"
Steve Rosenblum: "I know what you mean by everyone there driving by these scenes as though they are routine. Lately, I have been trying to force myself of turn off NPR during my half hour drive to and from work, turn on my 'mindfulness,' and truly allow myself to be in the moment. I live in Ann Arbor and drive on an interstate-like highway to and from work through the suburbs of SE Michigan. One of the things I've noticed is that very often the sky looks really amazing. Here's the thing—I spend a lot of time in the Rocky Mountain West (Colorado, Montana, Utah). Out there in 'Big Sky' country, I always notice and pay attention to the sky because it does indeed look huge and dramatic. However, I have realized by actually trying to stay in the moment during my Michigan suburban commute that the sky here is often equally amazing looking. It's the 'frame' and my own expectations that are different. A sky framed by 14,000 foot mountains seems different than one framed by highway exits, subdivisions, and strip malls. After a lifetime of driving these routes I have trained myself to tune out during these times. But...when I pay attention, there it is! The same amazing sky with all of its variations of colors, clouds, and light. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said, 'Wherever you go, there you are.' Your friend, Steve (almost the suburban Buddha) Rosenblum."
Rod: "I live in Tasmania. A giant island on the cusp of several weather channels. We used to be known for our regular 'four seasons in one day,' but with weather patterns changing, it looks like we may be the stable place to live! I remember driving from sunshine at my house, 45 kilometers to a nearby mountain (Mt. Barrow), camping in two feet of snow and coming home to sunshine, in the middle of Summer. Not unusual, but becoming less unusual worldwide. Now we sit sit back and watch as wild weather batters the mainland (Australia)."
Bourquek: "I'm a lifelong fan of meteorology and astronomy, so I'm always looking up, and I encourage others to do so. Clouds are an amazing, ever-changing show. Some people don't even know if it's cloudy or sunny out...I guess we just live in different worlds. Not too long ago I located the planet Venus in the mid-day sky. With the aid of binoculars I was able to show it to a number of people. Who knew such magic was right over our heads. ;-) "