Phil Hugo: Living in the shadow land

It’s a beautiful morning in late March at the estate on High. Mostly blue above with a handful of puffy clouds, and the yellow orb radiates welcome warmth to the chilly air. I sit in a chair on the patio, and Miss Maisie, the resident feline, nibbles some grass at the edge of the concrete before she starts to wander — checking out the sights, sounds and smells of the backyard. What a way to start the day!

When I go to take a respite on the patio, I don’t bring a book or a computer. I want to be attuned to what’s going on around me. Some call it “being in the moment.” A squirrel does a balancing act as it walks the neighbor’s fence, a downy woodpecker forages in a dead mulberry tree — and shadows.

“Webster’s New World College Dictionary” defines shadow as a “definite area of shade cast upon a surface by a body intercepting the light rays.” And that is what I am seeing as I study the gray-green, east-facing wall of our garage: an area that acts as a blank canvas, ready for the artist. In this case: the sun.

The most noticeable shadows on the wall are of a dendrologic nature, i.e. trees. The one that grabs my eye as it moves into the canvas is a very large branch of Quercus alba, otherwise known as our humongous white oak tree. It’s almost as if one can see the tree growing in size via time-lapse photography.

To the left is the branch structure of a small shrub-like tree and the aforementioned mulberry. I suspect it died because I was too aggressive with the annual pruning to control its growth.

Those shadows can stand alone, but their presence frames a small window and wall box with violas adding a dainty splash of color.

As the sun goes, so go the shadows, creating what appears to be a slow-moving tableau — ever-changing if one is willing to be in that moment.

But wait! There is another component of that canvas. Hanging under the eave is a string of colorful Tibetan prayer flags. Perhaps you’ve seen them flying in the winds of Nepal and other areas of the Himalayas as they send blessings to that part of the world. In our part of the world, the flags dance in the breeze, their shadows in tow.

To appreciate the silhouettes, one must leave his chair for a closer look. Only then does he see the structure of them, with the sun dissecting the delicate weave of the fabric.

I retreat to the chair to take in more of the shadow show; make that plural because there are many, even in a small yard. For instance, the chairs around the table, with woven straps of vinyl, create geometrical designs, e.g. lines, angles and curves, all changing as the sun moves ever higher in the azure sky.

Maisie walks past me, accompanied by her shadow, and launches at a flying insect. I catch a shadow zipping across the garage roof. I didn’t see the bird, but I know it is in the Order Passeriformes, which is where the perching birds are classified. There are numbers of them in our neighborhood, so it could have been a robin or cardinal.

As the days grow longer, there will be a metamorphosis of shadows on the property. That wall canvas will become as if a large curtain has been drawn across its surface, awaiting tomorrow’s sunrise. New leaves on the oak are peeking out, and the shade they cast will bring a different look to the scene. The sunlight will have to pick its way through a shroud of millions of leaves.

When I spend time on the patio in the late afternoon, the shadows are different — in some ways more subdued. There are images of the tree, wind spinners, chairs and, if I get down on my knees, a barely discernible shadow of an ant.

I ease into a chair, and soon I see a large shadow flying across the yard to the east. I look up and see a red-tailed hawk flapping and sailing above the neighborhood. Some days it can be a turkey vulture. I observe a red admiral butterfly fluttering about, then doing an aerial dance with its shadow on the neighbors’ house. The wonder of it all.

Whenever or wherever the sun shines, I will be here or somewhere, looking at a shadow or two. In the words of the poet and dramatist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “There is a strong shadow where there is much light.”

Phil Hugo lives in Lima. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.