With the month of January about to take its leave of us, I looked back upon the weeks passed and contemplated a time period traditionally laden with snow and ice – a time when Arctic air holds the Maine coast within its tightest grip of the year.
However, if the evidence to date is destined to be a pattern rather than a noticeable blip on the resume׳ of winter 2011-12, then so much for tradition. For up until now, “Old Man Winter” has certainly lacked the power to usher in its sustaining realm of cold in the face of an adversarial jet stream.
Yes, some snow has adorned the coastal landscape in a pretty dress of white here and there, but its stark absence for most of the month has not only kept winter fun on the shelf, it has also doused the spirits of those enduring the season’s short days and lack of vibrancy.
Even though snow can bring its share of hardships during a storm, each blanketing eventually soothes our souls with sparkling beauty as it graces pastures, pines and ledges in a breathtaking fashion.
So with trees stripped of their leaves and the ground offering up nothing more than unimaginative brown hues along every step of the way, I decided to raise my daily focus and search the firmament for those vivid moments to ease the disappointment spawned by our snow drought.
Indeed, even with its limited ability to ascend high in the wintertime sky and overall lack of intense warmth, the sun remains a trusty friend with a boundless penchant for all things bright, cheery and colorful.
Then there is the lighthouse – that charming sentinel at the edge of the sea with its own beaming light and vigilant personality, all of which never fails to inspire feelings of joy and contentment.
Together, these two sources of light collaborated on more than a few occasions during the month of January to help banish any “bummer” thoughts that lurked in the back of my mind over a winter without much of an icy glimmer to it.
One notable encounter where sun and sentinel assumed the grand stage of the outdoors in lock-step was admired just off Curtis Island in Camden.
Actually it was the riveting presence of cumulonimbus clouds draped across an afternoon sky that beckoned my wife Ann-Marie and me to find a suitable vantage point for absorbing the moment to its fullest that led us to stop at the Curtis Island Overlook.
The burgeoning billows reminded me of summertime thunderheads, so when they settled in behind the island light station, the scene suddenly transcended the seasons in a most profound manner.
As the clouds bridged the expanse of Penobscot Bay, the sun splashed its radiant light upon their countenance, which highlighted every puffy curvature in shades of white, blue and gray.
Where a blanket of white was missing on the ground about me, the same could not be said in the sky high above me. All the while, Curtis Island Lighthouse stood amidst this dynamic scene like an exclamation point punctuating a moment of pure magnificence.
Yet when it comes to the sheer splendor of color, the energy of afternoon sunlight takes a bow to the sun’s greatest displays of tinted glows, which occur at sunrise and sunset – with sundown possibly being the finest act of them all.
During wintertime, the time of sunset seems even more beautifully mysterious than any other time of year. Maybe it’s the bitter cold air that forces us to seek warmth – even if it is mostly symbolic in nature, from the presence of a docile sun, or the fact that the whipping winds transform the sea into a dark, agitated vacuum, which serves only to accentuate the dashes of royal color in the sky above.
Whatever the reasons, there is something special about the regal beauty of a winter sunset – a scene that often occurs amidst the air of complete solitude.
It was during such a quiet moment at Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde when Ann-Marie and I witnessed another stunning show by the sun as it prepared to bid adieu to one more January day.
During its afternoon descent the sun doused the landscape in hues of rich oranges, which warmed the soul if not the rest of me. As I looked about the grounds of the light station, I noticed how the former fog bell – a permanent exhibit at the site, seemed invigorated in appearance.
Intrigued, I took off my glove and touched its iron skin to see if the sun’s radiant glow was being absorbed in the form of heat. The answer to my silent query was, “not really.” Back on went the glove as my gaze shifted from the fog bell to the arena of the tides.
At this point the sun was low enough where I could hide from its brilliance in the shadow of Marshall Point Lighthouse. Above me, though I know it did not change from minutes prior, the ceiling created by a thick layer of clouds seemed to be closing in around me.
Maybe it was just the angle of the sun and the transitions of evening light in motion, but whatever it was; there was an air of mystery about the place.
Raising my camera to silhouette the lighthouse against the bright background, I was suddenly stopped in my tracks by an unexpected scene of lustrous proportions beginning to unfold before me. Dashes of yellows, reds, pinks and purples descended upon the lighthouse and the sea in rapid fashion while daylight behind me dimmed further in what seemed like an act of deference to the sun’s noble departure beyond the horizon.
Yet for the entire splendor cascading about me, I found my eyes affixed to the lantern of Marshall Point Lighthouse, which was glowing in a manner I had not seen before.
The brilliance occupying the top of the tower was as deep as it was sparkling – so much so that the beacon inside, which was shining bright itself, was no match to the golden luster of the star of stars.
Outlining the tower’s cupola was a thin red drape of color that, along with the dazzling affects stirred up inside the lantern, gave the lighthouse an unearthly appearance not easily forgotten.
Alas, as with all astonishing shows of light and color, the display’s intensity faded as quickly as it emerged, but not before it etched its memory in my mind and buoyed the spirits of one who – for a moment, forgot all about the fact that winter has yet to share its own sparkling glimmers in full array.