The Institute for the Study of Light and Water

I am the founder and only member of the Institute for the Study of Light and Water. In truth its membership includes all who live. Data-gathering continues from my top-floor hillside apartment, the observatory. Generous windows on every side provide views of the lake and the sky. I must complete the Institute’s studies.

Theory: Photons define time. The sun moves blocks of light around the Institute. The Institute notes the earth’s tilt away, then its path from darkness, axis wobbling like a top. Summer days propagate and the Institute leans into illumination, windows free of curtains. Whitman wrote, “eyes vainly crave the light”. The Institute can’t bear curtains, not at this latitude.

City lights reflect off cloud cover into its night rooms, pale dim purples tinged with coppery reds. Sometimes the moon’s white light plows through. My circadian rhythms wobble like the axis as I stay up late getting extra observing time, wake up early to stare down the frosty morning star over the lake while walking to work, sleep in on weekends my skull lit from dream light exchanging with the dawn. What is the nature of dream light, light without photons?

The sun hits the water, smashing into a billion fragments containing the whole. Water’s moods bend light, forging it into columns, shafts, beams illuminating the volume of their descent. Ribbons of light crisscross surfaces. Each ribbon is the sun as a dancing string.

Light colors surfaces appropriately.

The moon continues to mystify the Institute. Its silver movements are not understood, first night in one window, the next night not at all. The crescent moon – Artemis’ bow – a cat’s eye in predation.

My little job funds the Institute’s infinite work. Even on the clock the eye observes the lake and its entanglements. Free in the afternoon, the Institute’s shadows crawl the planes of the floors and the walls. Observations continue. Weather spills over the hill, confronting the lake. The lake hurls weather back. Cloudforms of contrasting textures transect the sky of colors and shadow, another light and water tryst.

Binoculars press eyes on the balcony of the Institute. Winter ice blows around on navy blue water. Solid white sheets tear like spiderwebs leaving vents of sea smoke. The water boils into the even colder air, it wants to freeze. Open water pushes salients into ice cover. Wind direction neutralizes gains. One day a great slab of ice is visible but a storm turns it to ice cubes swamping the beaches. Next day they’re all blown out to sea and the water is clear and open. Next day the ice cubes are back agglomerating into a mass. Each piece of ice is a lens and the binoculars show rainbow spectra scattering and dividing the light. The Institute pursues these mysteries.

As the sun leaves the Institute’s bedroom for the kitchen, then to the office, the eye follows flashes on the water. Consider the virtues of reflectivity. The Institute installed mirrors, lunar labyrinths. Far corners have inverted lines of sight. Look away from the lake to find it. The lake is before and behind the Institute, a skull filled with light real and imagined. The Institute dissolves in glows, light as solvent.


An index of Jim Richardson’s essays may be found here.

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