As a culture we prize all things brightly illuminated. We cherish the summer and grow bitter in the cold. We electrify our homes to be white as daylight and build with the biggest windows pointing south. But here in the mountains, where old homesteads are short and dark as shiitakes and often set into the north end of things (leaving the scant scraps of southern exposure for fields of tobacco or grain) there is an old standing appreciation of northlight and the particular brand of diffuse illumination it can bring.
Every shade of light has its own gifts and abilities to help us see. If southlight is fluorescent— direct, overhead and uncompromising— then northlight is phosphorescence itself. A gentling force that can coax up the surface the light that lives within the bones of things. Northlight is the muted green of lichen on a quiet tree. It is unglazed porcelain. Northlight is the diffuse incandescence coming through your blankets in the morning— and it is a cocoon for creativity.
A Gathering of Bloodroots by luminous local artist Stephanie Thomas Berry
In our mountains, it is the north-facing coves that birth the most diverse profusion of spring ephemerals and medicinals. They need the gentle indirectness of the north in order to thrive. Artists, like our rare flowers, are also devotees of northlight. Studios with northfacing windows are often the most esteemed spaces for creating as northlight is so ideal for capturing the nuances of color, texture and tone. Southern light may be bright, but it is a volatile pour— ever shifting, casting shadows and contrast with every turn. Northlight, in comparison, is as consistent and gently illuminating as the ambiance of a forest floor.
In the milkglow of northlight we can experience a wider, quieter gradient of life. We can touch the texture of things, tend to the subtle. Northlight helps us to appreciate what often goes unnoticed, to attune ourselves to feeling tones. In the north we are given time and space to come into our realizations. Like a chai steamed with milk and sipped over a long morning, revelations can come in slow.
In winter we are invited to bath in the gentle dilution of all northlight. To step away from the harsh spotlight of major life overhauls, the big harvests of beginnings or reapings. And to experience a bit of consistency, simplicity. Northlight nurtures an appreciation of the littlest things. Warm china and soft hands. Well-worn flannel and the tiny echo of the stars.
We all move through times of winter and its northlight. Winters of the land, winters within our relationships or emotional lives, the wintering of our bodies into elderhood. In our culture we are conditioned to resist this wintering with every resource available. But what happens when we can embrace the light that lives there? When we can see such times of round-about illumination, of quieting and survival, not as condemnations of dimness or lack, but as spacious stretches where we can explore the texture of our own beings. To appreciate the full gradients of our feelings, without judgement and without despair. To hold our lives like a palm of moonstone, gentle, opalescent and full of their own meaning.
Try this season to immerse yourself in northlight and all the gentle creativity it can bring. Sit in a room with north facing windows or go for a walk on the north end of your street. See what feelings arise when you allow this diffusion to enter the pores of your being.
Interested in invoking and embodying your own pole star of creativity this winter? Check out my new video: Stones for Creative Flow