The light


Five years ago, I wrote the following email to the author Lawrence Weschler:

Dear Lawrence Weschler,

Not long ago, we moved to a big house up on a hill in the village of Chatham (which is Columbia County, NY, if you know the area) and somehow the light up here is amazing. The sun sets this amazing orangey pink, but when it rises somehow it is even more gorgeous. One morning around 7:30 I heard some geese flying overhead and I looked up and saw how with the sun hitting them just right they were glowing this amazing orange color.

But what I’m actually getting at is that two mornings ago, again amazed by the light, I remembered reading an article many many years ago in The New Yorker about a guy who while watching the O.J. Simpson white Bronco chase was so struck by the beauty of the light of southern California that he had tears streaming down his face. This image stayed with me all these years because it was so funny and so serious both, and it is the kind of thing that I always end up noticing, the thing that you’re not actually supposed to be looking for. So I did a google search for “New Yorker article california light oj simpson” and there was your article, written way back in 1998! But it was just as I remembered it. At least the very first two paragraphs, which were the best, of course.

So I know it’s a little late and all, but I just want to thank you again for writing something so moving that it stayed with me for 13 years.

I hope you are enjoying New York City. Sometimes you can find beautiful light there but you have to look a bit harder is all.

The paragraphs I was referring to were the following:

The day of that infamous slow-motion Bronco chase—actually, it was already past sundown here in New York as I sat before the glowing TV in our darkening kitchen, transfixed by the unfurling stream of bob-and-wafting helicopter images, hot tears streaming down my cheeks—my eight-year-old daughter gazed for a while at the screen and then over at me, at which point, baffled and concerned, she inquired, “What’s wrong, Daddy? Do you know that guy?”

“What guy?” I stammered, surfacing from my trance, momentarily disoriented. “Oh, no, no. I didn’t know the guy. I don’t give a damn about the guy. It’s that light! That’s the light I keep telling you girls about.” You girls: her mother and her. The light: the late-afternoon light of Los Angeles—golden pink off the bay through the smog and onto the palm fronds. A light I found myself pining for every day of the nearly two decades since I left Southern California. (from “L.A. Glows” by Lawrence Weschler.  The New Yorker, February 23, 1998)

Here is part of what Lawrence Weschler wrote back to me:

What a sweet note to wake up to on such a snowbright crispbrisk Saturday morning. Thank you. Yes, there are moments of surprising light in New York as well (in town you also have to remember to look up), but there is something special (maybe just natal, in my own case) about that LA light.

I include this exchange here for the following reasons:

1. It is, without question, extremely satisfying to write to authors, to tell them how much you liked their work, and how it affected you. I have found that they are always appreciative and, wonderfully, nearly always write back.

2. I am a little bit obsessed with getting to L.A. just to see what Weschler was talking about. Someday I will get there.

3. The light. I have, on various occasions, referred back to Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day,” especially the lines that I have not stopped thinking about ever since I first read them years ago: “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is./I do know how to pay attention.” We no longer live in that house up on that hill, but the light where I live is just as remarkable. Pretty much every day I look outside and marvel that I live in what must be one of the most beautiful areas of the country. The skies are so wide open and sometimes on a walk along an ordinary country road (with or without cows out standing in their field) I will stop to look at the light. I’m just trying to pay attention is all. It’s the only thing I am sure of.



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