A Cape Cod Notebook 11/20/07

listenReflections at Dusk

By Robert Finch

The green wall of summer is dismantling itself. After the extended clemency of this unusually warm autumn, the oak leaves are finally falling in small flocks or in mass migrations earthward. And as t hey fall the sliders and the glass windows on the south walls of the house begin to let in not only late - autumn sunshine and a greater sense of exposure, but a totally new dimension, even a sense of unreality, to what happens inside.

The effect can be powerful, illuminating our own mortality or those of others. One late-fall aftern oon several years ago, my father stopped to visit. He sat with his back to the glass doors, the sun low behind him. As we talked quietly over coffee, my eyes slowly adjusted to the brilliant sunlight beh ind him, so that his figure seemed to darken, lose detail, and become a shrunken silhouette. His body became a mere cutout against the consuming glare of the sky and the cryptic pattern of the shimmering tree branches behind him. I had a sudden, overwhelming sense that he was disappearing before my eyes, and felt a painful urge to reach out and draw him back. Instead, I consciously aver ted my eyes and offered him more coffee.

At this season dusk is the most powerful time of day. At supper I sit at one end of the table facing the large glass windows to the southwest. The sun has just set clear, and the myriad interlaced branche s of the oaks grow first dark, then black against the dying light. Then perspective itself goes: The thin oak limbs cut and weave across one another in a flat plane like a thousand shears, snipping apart the plaited continuities of the day. It's a stark sunset ballet, at once full of terror and peace, as t hough seen down the long, destroying corridors of the centuries.

If it's not too cold outside, we leave the shades up throughout the evening. As night comes on, the black glass panels finally begin to give us back to ourselves. They show us our reflected images gathered around the lamp at the table, as in so many dark mirrors. Our reflected shapes are somewha t blurred because of the double panes, and this effect plus the darkness give the reflections a kind o f distance, as though we saw ourselves on a stage, as if we were people whom we know quite well, whose futures we care about, yet whom we are somehow unable ever to tell what we know about their destinies.

It is at such times as this, I think, that we come as close as we ever do to imagining ourselves as we really are, reflected darkly out of the enclosing night. To see ourselves thus confutes our sense of a human-dominated world and throws us back into huddled pinpoints of light and vague, ominous glows against the horizon. It is for this that I love the night. It gives a return of perspective, dissol ving the bounded blue sky of day into a universe of lights rushing away from one another into endless folds o f space.