Monday, December 6, 2010


This weekend Las Vegas was cloudy – a fairly rare thing for the desert. I spent all of Sunday at home with George, with a To-Do list that consisted of making cut-out sugar cookies and prepping our Christmas cards. I didn’t know it was going to be cloudy; I first saw it in the morning when I noticed that the light coming through the shutters was different. Outside the sky was grey, the sun a big GE soft white light bulb casting the world in gentle light. It made me want to snuggle on the sofa with George and a hot cup of tea, so I did just that.

I notice the light quite a bit. Maybe everyone does, but I think I was trained at an early age to notice things – what makes a good photograph, which setting would be a great painting, how a strip of light from a window adds just the right compositional component to make a scene pop. I guess you could say I appreciate the light. And I love to notice the way the light changes depending on the weather, the climate, the country.

My favorite light is when there is snow on the ground. I love the bluish-whiteness of the light as it bounces off the snow, when the sky is white to match the ground. There is such a softness to the light of snow.

When it rains there is another kind of light, as if the light shining through each raindrop causes it to diffuse and weaken. The light seems heavy, burdened by all those drops.

Have you ever noticed the light during a solar eclipse? I’ll never forget walking out my door and noticing the difference in the light; it seemed yellowish, surreal. I walked into the yard and saw that under the tree by the mailbox, the light shining through the branches created thousands of little half-moon-shaped (half-sun) shadows on the ground. You could watch the progress of the eclipse in the shadows.

I remember hearing years ago that the Impressionists liked to paint in a certain place in Europe because the light was so good. As a kid I thought that was absurd; light was light, right? But I learned what they meant when my husband and I went to Paris a few years ago. We took the Eurostar over from London, and I’ll never forget looking outside the train window at the French countryside for the first time. Something about it was different. Yes, it was farmland and windy, cloudy skies, but it looked…I couldn’t think of a word to describe it at the time. Foreign? Well, duh, of course. I finally realized it was the light. Something about it was just…different. Brighter, somehow, but not bright.

Over Thanksgiving I drove to visit family in Alabama, across Tennessee to their house. It was dark during half my drive, but the moon lit up everything, eliminating the need for streetlights. As I entered Huntsville, suddenly the moon was right in front of me, orange in a sky of deep, dark blue. The highway wound past the Space & Rocket Center, and the tall white rockets reflected the moon’s glow. The drive was gorgeous, because of the moonlight.

In Vegas, we mostly have sunny days. And I don’t mind them. When the weather is nice, the yellow sunny days make me happy, make me want to be outside. But in the glare of the summer sun, the brightness is oppressive. We shield ourselves from it in sunglasses and floppy hats. The Vegas light is too much, blinding, revealing, exposing. Like the city itself, the summer sun is all about excess.

So give me my cloudy days. Bathe me in soft light. Cast the world in a warmer glow.

And most of all, notice the light.


  1. Shannon, I had no idea you did brilliant. I enjoy reading your takes on the world and the simplest light. There has always been a certain awe to the way the Vegas skies light up the mountains around us at different times of day and taking strolls through the desert of Red Rock Canyon and seeing the many variations of color and texture in the vast expanse of is just so amazing...thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. a few things... I drove to Huntsville from Nashville one day just to spend time in Alabama. I liked Huntsville quite a bit!

    I always enjoy looking at Lake Michigan. The water is never the same color. The amount of sky/water combinations is incredible... Nothing I've seen has compared to Mammoth and Bishop, CA skies. The purple... the orange... the pink... etc.