Saturday, January 10, 2009
Know what I mean about a certain kind of dream sunset? The colors are garish and acrid and surrounded by amorphous figures of unknown provenance. It's usually a prelude to some sort of nightmare scenario.
I saw this one on the way home last night, driving toward Madison on Highway 12, about 10 miles out. It looked exactly like a real sunset, and stood out brightly against the dark, cloudy sky. The sunset glowed a bright orange above the horizon, beneath the low cloud ceiling, although the colors were a bit off. But I knew it couldn't be a sunset. It was 7:30 p.m. So what was it? That's when I realized it was the light from countless sodium vapor streetlights in Madison, along with all the other lights a city throws up at the night.
Every photon of light in this "sunset" is a photon representing wasted energy. It's the same kind of wasted light that results in those beautiful night maps shot from space that show urban centers as brightly illuminated nodes, connected by delicate networks of lesser lights crisscrossing the dark side of the planet. Much of it was generated by burning fossil fuels and adding to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. There are technologies for mitigating this atmospheric light pollution, which also harms migratory birds and makes it harder and harder to see the stars even on a clear night near any urban center. But we're slow to crack down on this extravagant and harmful form of pollution.
Maybe we need to rethink our relationship to darkness. "Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness," they say. But millions and millions of electric candles?
Friday, January 09, 2009
Behind the wheel of a car, it's often hard to appreciate winter's beauty. Our attention is focused (and should be focused) on the road, other drivers and various kinds of contingency planning and paranoia. That's why it's a good idea to pull over now and then and turn your car into a shelter from the storm instead of a challenge to it (best to put your flashers on). Look out the window. Remember how much fun snow was when you were a kid? How magical the winter was back then? It still is.
Rules for Winter Commuting When It's Snowing: Drive carefully and find a big truck, settle in behind it and let it run interference for you. Anybody who loses control is going to have to go through it to get to you. (And stay back. This was taken with a telephoto.)
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
I'm a heavy coffee drinker and have become deeply attached to my various cups at home and in the office. I'm not sure it matters much what they look like originally -- some have been downright weird, others stunning. But usage soon gives them the beauty of familiarity.
Trouble is, whenever I've had a cup in the office that I'm particularly fond of, I either break it or it disappears. I finally realized on a trip to Florida some time back that what I really needed was an Ugly Cup. This gaudy mess, with my name printed in large (ugly) capital letters on the back and covered with alligators, beaches, palms and space shuttles seemed just the thing. For years it served its purpose -- the name successfully warded off poltergeists, and if that wasn't enough, there was the sheer ugliness as an added deterrent. And, hey -- if it broke, I could just throw away the pieces. I never lost it and drank my coffee out of it every day for eight years (I enjoyed the large capacity, too).
But I'm only human. One day I dropped it, putting into play the other function of an Ugly Cup -- in the event of inadvertent destruction, I could just sweep up the pieces and gladly be rid of this embarrassment. But with the tenacious survival instincts of a true Ugly Cup it refused to die. The handle snapped off neatly and the cup was otherwise unharmed. It would be wantonly callous to toss out such a hardy survivor.
That's why I now have an Ugly Pen Holder on my desk. (As for my new cup, it isn't ugly --just blah. A black cup with a little logo on it from the kitchen cabinet. Attachments to things are just too difficult.)
The bad news is that I drive east when I go to work -- which can be blinding on a sunny morning when the sun is low on the horizon (ditto in reverse on the way home). The good news is that on a partly cloudy day, the view can be magical and entrancing. This is Highway 12, east of Madison.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Standing by an icy Lake Wingra on the way to work, I realize that winter brings out my feline side. I just want to curl up by the heater and snooze. Summers, I'm more doglike.