• Patsy Clark Urschel

The Magic of Light

Updated: Jul 4

In the sub arctic, the summer months are stretched long and sometimes thin, particularly on either side of the solstice. There's a semblance of dark between 1:00-3:00 am, but it's not a very good impersonation. The longer days mean we can run greater stretches to get from one anchorage to another, especially appreciated when we're trying to make time or the safe anchorages are scarce. What I really treasure, though, is the quality of light this time of year. Between four and five am and again after nine pm, the glow and clarity is breathtaking, particularly on clear days. We're in Homer now and the marina is a busy place, but at four am, it's still and quiet and I feel like I own the morning (or at least get to contemplate it on my own terms). The crane dock is dormant, no feet are clattering as they make their way down the distant metal ramps, and no generators are running. In the quiet I get to see the day and sky establish itself gradually, as the changing light reveals a range of hues cast on the same objects over the span of just minutes. I love clear, calm early hours for the pleasure of just watching the show.

The feel of South Central coastal Alaska is a study in contrasts with Southeast. On Kodiak Island, the hills are greened up and from a distance look like the thickest moss, saturated with emerald hues and the feeling of abundant life. It seems softer and less rugged somehow. At the end of some of our days there, the wind would calm and the evening light would infuse the brightly colored steel fishing boats with the deepest version of their painted hulls, converting their workman-like forms into something arresting and artful. In the early morning, the reverse would be true and the sky would hold all the light and cast its reflections in a more muted way.


This is the solstice, the still point of the sun, its cusp and midnight, the year's threshold and unlocking, where the past lets go of and becomes the future; the place of caught breath.

-Margaret Atwood


Life on the water can be a rich experience, but I've come to understand that I need breaks from it occasionally, to ground myself with the solidity of earth and the way that light plays on her. A few days ago, I took myself off to a one room cabin in Homer to celebrate my own version of renewal. It was a divine and solitary 48 hours among the tall cow parsnip, lupines, the chattering birds, and the steep bluff leading down to Kachemak Bay. My hosts had affixed a thick rope from the top of the bluff to the beach, so visitors like me could repel down and get some support on the steep climb back up. The 40 mile bay sees some of the largest tidal fluctuations in the world, so my beach walks at varying stages of the cycle meant tide pools to explore and exposed rocks as far as the eye could see in the morning and a vast stretch of water in the late afternoon. Up from the bluff, which overlooks the Kenai Mountains, my little cabin was perched in a small clearing, surrounded by native plants, most of them flowering or just about to. The tiny front porch was bathed in morning light, as was the back deck in the afternoon. I won't soon forget those two days. They gave me everything I needed - a break, perspective, quiet, a renewed sense of terrestrial wonder, and an alternate perch from which to watch light at work.


It is only in solitude that I ever find my own core. -Anne Morrow Lindberg


An entirely different form of light came at the end of February, before we left Petersburg for the season. While cold and clear nights that time of year are not a regular occurrence like they are inland, I had just one opportunity, my very first, to see the Northern lights at play in the sky. Over the course of an hour, the undulating ribbons of light flashed and danced, changing shape and color by the second. Who would have thought that electrically charged particles colliding with gasses could elicit poetic promises to pay closer attention to everything, but that's exactly what happened.

During our countless nights anchored in the bays and coves of coastal Alaska, the waning light during sunset offered another set of moments to savor and appreciate. Evening clouds become a foil to the setting sun and are themselves transformed by its transit over the horizon.

Finally, who doesn't love a day filled with cumulus, cirrus, and nimbostratus clouds filling the sky, giving texture to otherwise piercing blue skies. These feel dreamy and indolent to me, an invitation to examine abstract shapes as shadow and light trade places.

After a long winter of wall to wall gray, I am intoxicated by the play of light in the sky, on the water, and on land. I'm savoring every moment I get to preserve them in my mind and in images - ones that will help see me through darkness and the paltry hours of daylight that follow the winter solstice.

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