Dappled Things

Those of us living in Seattle just endured one of the worst winters on record for the area. We had day after dreary day of gray mist and low clouds. I think there were a couple of sunny days scattered in there, but I can’t remember them. All I remember is endless damp and cold.

So, with the return of sunshine and warm weather over the past week, I’ve felt like weeping with relief. The summers in the Pacific Northwest are as spectacular as the winters are dreary. High blue skies without a drop of humidity. Balmy, warm temperatures. A bounty of flowers and blackberries and cherries. I have been gladly soaking in the sunshine, absorbing much-needed Vitamin D, and watching the breeze dance through the trees in my backyard.

I have always loved the look of brilliant sunshine filtered through leafed-out trees. The mottled, cheerful light that dances across a forest floor or over a shady street. In fact, some of my happiest memories include this powerful visual memory. I remember traveling to the village of Elsah, Illinois with my mother and sister some time in the early 1990s. The town had just suffered terrible flooding, but most of the old clapboard inns and houses had recovered. I vividly remember walking past storefronts selling homey jams and pottery and antiques. I think we were there in early June. Everything seemed to sparkle under the dappled sunlight of that day.

ElsahSunlight

I remember trips to the Canadian Rockies lit by that same magical light. Afternoons driving through the Vermont countryside. And on. My mother and I would often remark to each other, almost in unison, how much we loved the sight of dappled sunlight. And then she would almost always quote Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Pied Beauty”:

Glory be to God for dappled things—
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
       For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
       And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                     Praise Him.
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