Saturday, May 09, 2009


The Eye of God If you're ever lacking evidence that the world is a set, that it's some elaborate and nearly-convincing ruse built to test your endurance against injustice, uncertainty, and some unconscionable proposition of inevitability (and who's testing, you might ask, and isn't the whole experiment more than a little unethical, and what the fuck, why me anyway, who does that make me in this whole ridiculous equation? ...well, never you mind about any of that), then the place to look is up. Sunbeams stretch out misleadingly from breaks in the clouds, and spread like divine fingers to the earth, or maybe like some benevolent or retributive holy gaze. MAD Magazine ruined meI've often taken sunbeams reaching through the clouds as a meaningful representation of God, casting His beatific essence from the sky to the earth, a view supported by a wasted youth of studying comic illustrations.

But it's a fake, right? A prop? If you think about the alleged distance of the sun to the earth, not to mention the relative diameters of the bodies, then we're talking a mighty slim solid angle. These photons are clearly jetting down to the little blue globe like soldiers in a column, marching at lightspeed to cross this uniquely flyblown orb all in line. There are, like, five spotlights hereThat's the story, anyway, and I call bullshit on it. It's bad enough that y'all act so unconvincingly, but at the right time of day, the awkward backlights couldn't be more obvious. What else am I supposed to think? And if it looks bad on the ground, get up in an airplane at one of the crepuscular hours, and witness, motherfucker. The sunbeams splay out from a dozen spotlights that are plugged in at various points only just barely behind the clouds, each converging at its own infinity, and not a common one. I can only believe they're quietly clicked off in sequence by the Cosmic Designers when night is designated to commence. In any case, wherever the beams finally do co-locate, it's some point a lot closer than a hundred-million-mile-distant perpetual H-bomb. As if.

I expected a more exotic explanation when I finally got around to looking this business up, some unlikely scattering event at the edges of the clouds maybe, or perhaps some ramification of being forced to shine through the dynamic array of cloud droplets. But it's nothing so complex as that. The image of sunbeams is a boring matter of perspective, more like watching the road recede infinitely before you and converge to a point than a sophisticated manipulation of the light. The counterintuitive trick is that the opening in the sky is the size of a New England county, and the sky itself is more enormous that it looks, at least a mile or two distant depending on the altitude of the phenomena. The perspective is greater than it appears, and yet, and yet...

You can spot crepuscular rays whenever light is shining down through a hole in the firmament and there are enough scatterers to make it look like a beam, and, as the word suggests, they're more likely to be observed at the right times of day. Vertical I hadn't realized it when I first thought to complain about the phenomenon, but there are anticrepuscular beams up there too, streaks of light pitched clear across the opposite horizon, that complete the other half of the surprising arc, and on rare occasions (I read), you can see the beams stretch across the length of the sky. Great, and now I'm going to be looking for them.

My favorite beams are the ones that streak out right before sunrise and just after sunset, that unitary burst, when a single ray streams vertically from just below the edge of the world, a godly claw reaching up to the sky to carve a path for the rising fireball.

It's backlit!Although the optical effect has grown into its definition, "crepuscular" is an unworthy word for this chunk of atmospheric beauty. It sounds, well, like crap. I can understand the motivation to attach a better significance to the way the light arcs across the sky. Jacob, it's said, could climb the ladder to heaven along these beams, and the Greeks believed (or preferred to believe) that water ascended by these illuminated staircases too. Rain had to come from somewhere, after all. I don't know if the Maori picture of roping back the sun is unique to their culture, but it's the favorite story I've found so far. If the old Polynesians had managed a more developed science of lighting before Whitey stumbled in with the muskets, then maybe they would have picked up on the multiple point sources before I did. I like the idea of lassoing flaming giant back. It's a myth with the right attitude to confront this obnoxious and glorious illusion.

[I had this post in mind before Smutty got going on about paddling the midwest in the prime of his life, but here's a bonus sunburst. His series is a great one. This is one of his photos.]

Out of the loop


Schmutzie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Schmutzie said...

Such a simple explanation for something that should be more complicated. I wondered the same thing myself....if the rays are running parallel through space (for all intents and purposes) then how can they be splayed out like a Japanese flag just because of some cloud?

Perspective? That's it?

I don't even want to know why a rainbow looks like that, so didn't give me any of that "prism" bullshit.

(you mean I'm past my prime now?)

Keifus said...

No kidding, I ain't buying it either. Whoever's running this show should get a better story together.

I hope you don't mind that I used the photo, by the way.

(Rainbows are more about drops acting like little retroreflective lenses, like the paint they use in road signs...)

switters said...

What was it Homer used as filler, in between chapter tellings? "Rosy-fingered dawn" stretching or some other?

Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus
and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians,
hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls
of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting
of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished
since that time when first there stood in division of conflict
Atreus’ son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus. . . .
Still, as famous as that opening is, it's one of my favorites, and it's even prettier in the original Greek.

Down here we get our prettiest beams in October.

twif said...

hey switters! where the fuck have you been?

Keifus said...

That Homer guys has a nice style. Does he have a blog, or what?

(You're right of course, on both points. I've read a handful of knockoffs on that opening, for this novel or that, and I think they have only made it more good.)

artandsoul said...

All awesome. Article. Photos. Comments.

Crepuscular - egads what a word! Made even more wonderful by the use of the word firmament.

Switters, I'm with you - best opening lines ever.

As usual, I'm glad I stopped in and read you all.


Keifus said...

Well, I can't take credit for a single one of the pictures: Scmutzie's and the cartoon are from the stated sources, and the rest are from trolling around an image search. (I'd be very proud if I took any of them myself. Would that I had a camera for any of those extra-freaky plane window views.) Thanks for being here too.

Schmutzie said...

That pic is in the google public domain. Have at it buddy!

LentenStuffe said...

Enjoyed that immensely.

Seems like your poetic, scientific and religious sensibilities are at war. I'm rooting for the first two.

bright said...

Okay, then I'll root for the last one (insert emoticon here).

Keifus said...

Let's put it this way: I can see how natural beauty can elicit any of those sensibilities. And here anyway, I am taking the religious interpretation of sunbeams about as seriously as the existentialist one. (But I appreciate the thought, bright.)

What a great crowd: must have done something right this time.

artandsoul said...

I think one can tickle all the sensibilities with a good story, or a good poem.

Doesn't mean any particular one has to take over the driver's seat.

(Let me see if I can mix in some more metaphors)

It's kind of like how many women (myself included) find it incredibly sexy for a man to do something quotidian with the kids. It's not that just anyone doing that makes us hot, but that guy we're married to -- when he fixes breakfast or wears the pink backpack as he walks her in to school -- that is simply hot hot hot.

It's just that sensibilities are vast and need some internecine nudging sometimes. Not destructively, but to invigorate.

That's just me, though.

artandsoul said...

So Keifus - where are you headed on your driving trip?

I'm going up through Louisville, to Minneapolis then the Dakotas and Montana and Wyoming. Maybe Utah.

We leave Monday!

Ben There said...

Wow, who knew testiculars could be so awe-inspiring...

Keifus said...

art: I had something along that first thought, but failed to convert. The plan is to head to the sunny shores of Lake Erie, about a twelve hour trip along the length of MA, NY and a chunk of OH. Will have to be sure to toot the horns in appropriate spots along the way.

Ben: Um, I think it's all in the technique...