The quality of light in Fairbanks in late December and early January is extraordinary. It is unlike any other time of the year, and I think unique to this place. The sun struggles above the horizon about 11 a.m. on the winter solstice, just east of due south, and falls below it just a few degrees west, three hours and forty-two minutes later. There are a lot of compensations for the brevity of the day, among them the auroras that light the sky with curtains of color on scores of nights each winter, and remembering that everyone in the world gets the same amount of light, so our short winter days are balanced by no darkness at all from mid-May to the first of August. But the character of the light in the brief hours of a deep winter day is its own reward.
We run or ski at least six miles on the trails from our house every other day, on skinny, twisty, hilly paths through the birch and aspen forest. We are often a couple of miles along the trail when the sun comes up, and it amazes me each time that such a seemingly wan orb can so transfigure the woods with light.
Illumination is very much the way it looks--and more importantly for me, the way it feels--staring into the sun through the forest a few minutes after sunrise on a late December or early January day.
We like to be home for Christmas, but we do often travel over New Year's, to see family and friends. This year our early January travels took us to New Mexico, to visit our friends David Policansky and Sheila David at their home high in the mountains, about eighty miles southeast of Albuquerque. We got to see both ancient Anasazi and seventeenth century Spanish mission ruins, tens of thousands of cranes and snow geese and ducks at Bosque del Apache Refuge, and we ran in bright sunlight on beautiful, high desert trails above 7000 ft.
Every trip to new landscape is grist for the mill for me, and though it often takes months, or even years, before I know how I want to respond to what I've seen and felt in a new place, this year I came straight home and painted a tiny New Mexico landscape. You can't see the petroglyphs we admired at this spot, or the pottery shards we found (and left) nearby, but I hope you can see a little of the character of the country and the quality of light, even in this tiny oil.