05. January 2022 · Comments Off on A Brief Miscellany · Categories: Domestic

One of the few nice things about this so-far-severely-depressing twenty-first century is the ubiquity of cellphones which can take pictures, and sometimes of a very good quality. Just about everyone has a cellphone, and those of us who have them are wandering around with one in our pocket or purse, or whatever – have the instant ability to take a picture of interesting curiosities at the drop of a hat. Just not when we are setting out on a deliberate photographic safari, with the camera and all in our possession.

There are three such images which remain in my memory as things that I most deeply wish I could have taken such a picture, so that I could have shared the astonishingly beautiful, striking image. They are enshrined in my memory only – so I can’t possibly share them, save in words.

The first is that of a certain Japanese maple tree, a small one, barely the size of a large shrub, growing to the right of the main door to the old base library at Misawa AFB in the late 1970s. The library then was housed in a post WWII single story temporary frame administrative-type building, of the kind which our military put up by hundreds of thousands on bases and posts across the USA and the world during that era. To my eyes these buildings always looked rather like two Monopoly houses put together, long, with a shallow roof pitch and usually windows along the long walls. The little maple tree, which was otherwise not particularly distinguished, nevertheless had the most beautiful, deep ruby-red leaves, once the foliage turned to fall colors. No other maple tree I ever laid eyes on, before or since, had quite the same purity of color – the very soul of red; like bright blood. It was splendid enough … but at least once in the years that I was there, an early snowfall hit, while the little tree by the library was still covered thick in vivid red leaves. And that was the most striking, memorable sight – the red leaves against the pure white new snow. I am certain there were classical Japanese woodcut artists who did pictures of red maple leaves, on snow, probably modern photographers who have managed to capture the same image. But in my own mind and memory, nothing to compare to the perfect red of the leaves of that little maple tree, and the vision of them, against the pure white of new snow … simply incomparable.

The second image also involves snow – this time during my year in Greenland in the early 1980s, which at the time seemed to be interminable. This image must have occurred sometime late in the year, before all turned dark and miserable, lightened in mid-December by a brief half-hour of murky twilight at noon. The radio station at Sondrestrom AB was a half-hour drive away from the main base at the head of a long fjord, hacked out during WWII as a rest stop for aircraft transiting from CONUS to the European Theater. The broadcast facility was housed in a lonely pair of buildings which overlooked a lake – frozen for most of the year – a bleak array of hills and mountains, and the little sheds which housed the Danish row-club during the months that the lake was actually liquid. But on one particular afternoon which may have come as early as 1 PM, a winter a storm had covered the hills, the lake, and all of the shore before it with clean, new-fallen layer of snow, as thick as white fondant icing on a wedding cake. The sun was setting, in a clear sky – winter had not set in, entirely, and out of the big windows in the library, the production and on-air studios, I could look out at the view – perfectly delineated in a spare palette of two single colors: colors, like those used by a 1960s artist who did posters for rock concerts. The sky was a perfect, light powder blue in the last of fading light, and the snow-covered lake, mountains, the hillside below – pale, shadowless pink, tinted by the setting in the west at the back of the broadcast facility. All that vista outside the windows was in those two flat planes of color – only pale pink and light blue. It was a most amazing sight.

The third and last didn’t involve snow, but a grove of aspen trees lining certain streets in South Ogden just below the great grey shale and sandstone wall of the Wasatch Range; huge, well-grown aspen stands, whose’ leaves turn pale gold in the fall, when temperatures begin to drop. Golden leaves and silvery-white trunks and limbs; and one particular year, a lot of leaves dropped all at once, carpeting the ground underneath; streets, yards and sidewalks with unfading golden leaves. It reminded me more than anything else of the descriptions of the wood of mallorn trees of Lothlorien, in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings; columns of silver-white trunks, gold leaves held up still, against the blue autumnal sky, and the ground below layered thick with more golden leaves. It only lasted a day or so, until the leaves were swept up, or blew away in the wind – but it was another amazing sight – just like the first two.


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