Blue Time

I’ve been thinking about the wintertime loss of sunlight lately -- it reminds me of the shadow cast by built space as we spend more time indoors during lockdowns. I think of the shadow in scales: shadow cast by our planet, our mountains, our buildings, our walls.

On either side of winter solstice I observe how the local mountains block the low winter sun in this narrow valley. Around 2 pm, the sun scoots by between two mountains and offers 20 minutes of direct sunlight on our house, if the sky is clear. Many homes here go without any sunlight from November to February each year. Clouds pile up for most of the winter, lowering the light levels more and creating a cocoon-like feeling: steep bluffs to the north and south, a low ceiling of fog, and drippy conifers adding extra shade. Curious about how other low-light communities experience winter, I came across an article about Tromso, a town in Norway that enters a period of polar night each winter — entirely in the shadow of Earth for 6 weeks. Without direct sunlight there is a range of light qualities — hours-long sunsets, northern lights, and a period of the day where reflections from the snow and ocean create “blue light”.

I’m trying to focus more on the qualities of our local residual blue and grey light — instead of thinking of it only in terms of lack of sunlight. I'm wishing I could visit one of James Turrell’s Skyspaces, which isolate the color qualities of the sky via carefully designed openings in architectural space.

Image above: "James Turrell's Deer Shelter Skyspace at Yorkshire Sculpture Park" by michaeljoakes is licensed with CC BY-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

© 2020 by Anne Ehrlich.

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