Since I was a child, I have always been enchanted by the sunlight filtering through the leaves. I recently learned, in one of those viral “repost” things–this one being about non-English words that encapsulate an experience that we don’t have a single word for in English–that there is a Japanese word for this. Komorebi. It seems appropriate that the language, culture and aesthetic that has a word like “hanami” (the act of viewing cherry blossoms in the spring, as well as a festival associated with the occasion) and another traditional festival associated with the act of viewing autumn colours, would also have a word that describes this phenomenon.
But, much as I love the sight of sunlight filtering through leaves–and I do love that interplay of light, colour, shadow and movement–the thing that I might love even more is the dance of the shadows of leaves, branches, blossoms or buds. I’m not sure why, particularly given that komorebi itself is so bright, and I so love the way that sunlight and shadows interact with colours, transforming them from one moment to the next. I feel a deep, welling joy when I see that interplay.
The dance of sunlight and silhouette is something different–that deep, tranquil joy that I feel at the golden warmth of the sunlight is somehow tempered with a sense of sadness, yearning and wistfulness at the sight of the dancing silhouettes of things. It brings to mind another apropos non-English word, this one favoured by the German Romantics of the early nineteenth century: sehensucht. It refers to an intense longing that goes beyond yearning, to something piercing and fundamental and soul-deep.
In my childhood home, we had deep red, textured curtains on our basement windows. The garden beds outside the window were filled with tall rose bushes, and beyond that, a busy sidewalk and road, such that the sound of footsteps, and of cars rushing by has been layered into the palette of sounds I associate with home, safety and comfort at some deep, visceral level. It was a room of afternoon sunlight. We often kept the curtains closed for privacy, and the previous owner of the house had finished the room with red carpets that we never bothered to change, such that when the afternoon sunlight shone through the dark red curtains, there was an almost womb-like quality to the space–warm and red and comfortably encompassing.
I have vivid memories of afternoon moments, sitting in that room with the curtains closed, just so I could curl up in the dimness of the space, and watch the way in which the gentle summer and autumn breezes, in stirring the rose bushes, would create a dance of light, wind and silhouette shadows on those red curtains. Even with the windows closed, I could hear the ebb and flow of the traffic beyond, as a neutral, white noise of sorts.
It felt somehow lovely and safe, but also ephemeral and sad. Even then, as a child and a teen, watching that silent dance, I felt that sense of sad, deep longing. Intriguingly, I most vividly recall, not the silhouettes of the bushes in full bloom, but of the rose hips–the bare, rounded globes, petals long fallen.
The winter has been long and unrelenting here in Ontario. People are tired of it and when another big dumping of snow arrives, and I have to drive through it–or over sheets of ice–I have some sympathy with that sentiment. Still, for the most part I continue to love the crisp clarity of the contrasts: brilliant white against the clear blue of the sky, the filigreed intricacy of the bare branches and the way the sunlight illuminates it all so brilliantly.
But, in the depths of an extended winter like this, I do find myself thinking of the other seasons and missing them. I can remember the sight of those shadows, dancing on the red surface of the curtains, or more recently, on the golden surfaces of the wooden floors and furniture of my current home. As I bring up the recollection, I can experience a memory-shadow of the wistful sehensucht it inspires–a kind of regressus ad infinitum of increasingly shadowy and faint memories of sensation and yearnings.
In this splendidly beautiful season of bare branches and clear-edged, unambiguous shadows, I miss the ever-shifting, ever-reshaping shadow-dance of the leaves, and the direct experience of that joyous, wistful longing that it inspires.
But, through the long winter, as the days grow longer once again, I can console myself with the knowledge that nothing is for ever, and after all, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?