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Monday Photo Meditation: Robes of Fire

Latilla Stacks Resized

This is the season of fire in the sky.

It’s contradictory; it is, after all, the season of water, too, of flooding monsoonal rains. But the rains of the day birth the fire of the night, or at least of the twilight.

I should qualify the first statement: There is another season that can be described in similar fashion, the one that lies two months hence. But there is one difference: In autumn, the fire burns at dawn; in summer, at dusk.

In this place, the monsoon is also a time of twilight skies aflame.

It seems unlikely, but it’s actually a matter of cause and effect, one amplified by other factors and facets of summer here. Once the rains arrive, water and light on most days follow a predictable path. Each day begins with low light clouds before dawn that clear off as the sun transcends the line of the peaks. On mornings such as this, enough clouds remain to herald a dawn robed in dusky blues and gold. But the cool air will soon give way to another brilliantly hot morning, light too bright and intense for comfort, just enough humidity in the air to draw one’s eye to the new thunderheads slowly amassing at distant horizons. By midday, the clouds have built themselves into a towering city in the sky, a mobile one that has already begun moving in to meet overhead. And by 2:00, on more days than not, the heavens will open. In the lands of my own home, this would be the end of it — the remainder of the day would be cloudy and gray, most likely with slow and steady rains into evening.

The rains are very different here.

Here, they are their own elemental force, powerful storms that arise as suddenly as they vanish, sometimes only moments later. But while they fall, they are a primal thing: no ordinary rain, these, but cloudbursts capable of spawning flash floods in a matter of minutes. It is not unusual to find standing water across the surface of the land here after a quarter-hour’s storm . . . standing water often rimed with ice on a day when the mercury mere minutes past had well exceeded ninety.

But the storms depart as fast as they come, racing eastward beyond the peaks to coalesce with their clan on the country’s central plains, thence to birth patterns still more extreme: high winds and hail, tornadoes. And in the wake, Father Sun rises again, this time in the western sky.

But here, in this season, there is actual fire in the sky, too: It is wildfire season. From our vantage point, flames are not usually visible, although fourteen years ago, a lightning strike on the mountainside brought them not merely within sight, but dangerously close to the old village. The ridgeline is still studded with the skeletons of the old pines that managed to remain standing, although in the last year or so, new growth has also become readily apparent around the burn scars.

In wildfire season, the most visible fire comes in the form of its effects: the smoke that dances with the sun at twilight. It produces effects very like those in the image above, a mysterious and otherworldly swirl of color and light. And this image has always reminded me of smoke in another way, the staggered silhouettes of the latillas looking like smokestacks in the fading light, their dark columns midwifing fire’s child, scarlet smoke to light a darkening sky.

At this moment, as we make ready to begin the workweek, earth and sky are awash in silvery light. There are no wildfires in close proximity; whatever haze drifts around us comes from flames too distant for us to notice. But already, the clouds gather, and soon the rains will come. And by twilight, Father Sun will dance on his descent, clad in robes of fire.

~ Aji

 

 

 

 

 

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