The Subtle Season

Subtle and dark, lovely and stark, in gentle tones of gray and brown and white, for a night and a day, then all turns gray . . .  from the song “Winter” by Lynn Emberg Purse

In the study of the physics of sound, I have always found it interesting that humans don’t perceive many different subtleties of volume but an almost infinitesimal perception of the subtleties in pitch (frequency) and tone color (timbre.)

And so it is in the garden.  It is that “in between” season, after the loud fireworks of autumn and before the stark black and white of winter.  The garden is quiet these days, with mostly the wind and the occasional bird call for a soundtrack as I wander through. But with the closest attention, there is subtle beauty that will linger until the snows come.

Shadow and Light

Chiaroscuro – Italian for the play of shadow and light, most often referring to tonal relationships in visual art (Wikipedia)

Walking through a garden or a forest is a much different experience than looking at it from afar. When seen from a vantage point, no matter how beautiful a view, only your eyes see the beauty before you and you are separated from it – it and you.  But walking in it and through it, that is a different experience altogether.  You and it become a “we” – fused together by a play of shadow and light, transient shifts of color and tone that enfold you as a part of nature’s spectral ballet.

Chiaroscuro is a term that painters used to describe the use of shadow and light to create the illusion of three dimensionality on a two dimensional plane.  Photographers embraced it  as a reminder that they were photographing light, not things. As I walked through the garden this week, each step became an experience of shadow and light. Every plant and flower took on a golden glow, filtered through the autumn leaves above. Standing below a fiery maple tree became a transcendent experience of standing in liquid gold; the deep umber and burgundy hues of light traveling through oak leaves captivated me for long moments.  The beauty of autumn is transitory, all the more treasured for that short period of time when we look upward at a canopy of color that is unmatched in any other season.

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Here is French singer Juliette Greco singing  Les Fuielles Morte (Autumn Leaves) in French in a live concert in Berlin (1967) in a simple arrangement of voice and guitar.  Sartre said of her that she had “. . . millions of poems in her voice.” (Wikipedia)

Where there is much light, the shadow is deep.  ~ Geothe

For a translation of the original French lyrics (by Jacques Prevert) to Les Feuilles mortes/Autumn Leaves (not the Johnny Mercer English lyrics) – see this translation by Coby Lubliner.