The shadow cast

by Lorin Michel Thursday, August 31, 2017 8:51 PM

I’ve written before about the creatures we encounter in the desert. Most of them are on the ground, but we do have plentiful birds and flying bugs. One buzzed by me this morning and I noticed that it cast a shadow. You know something is big when it casts a shadow. I don’t know what type of bug it was and I honestly don’t care. I’m not a big fan of bugs on the ground; less so of ones in the air.

It made me think though. Shadows are fascinating changes in the light. While they seem to block the light entirely, in effect they really only hide it, temporarily, and even then only some of it. If there’s enough light to cast a shadow, there is enough light to dance in the shadow. Every day, I look at the shadows cast by the towering saguaros in our driveway and watch them drift from west to east as the sun moves from east to west. This isn’t exactly news to anyone and I don’t mean it to be. It’s more of an observation. In those shadows and in others, there is still light. It’s just taking a break. 

I watch sports and am amazed when the baseball hit to deep left field or the deep pass thrown toward a sprinting receiver disappears in the interplay of shadow and light within a stadium. It’s there one minute; the next it’s hiding in plain sight only to drop out of the sky, often into a waiting glove or the capable hands of the receiver. I wonder how the players keep their eye on ball, how they find it in the interplay of light and darkness.

I marvel at the moving shadows cast by the ravens and falcons, the occasional hawk and the even more occasional osprey as they float across the desert, sometimes so close I can see their eyes, count the feathers in their wings. Depending on where the sun is, the shadow they cast can seem like a mini-eclipse. Even airplanes, high in the sky, when moving past the sun in just the right way, can shadow the earth below. It’s eerie and wondrous, dare I say illuminating. 

A person can stand and cast a shadow. A house casts a shadow; ditto a car. A dog casts a shadow; a cat, too. Deer, javelina, tortoises cast shadows here in the desert. Saguaros, ocotillos, prickly pear; mesquite and palo verde, even palm trees. And bugs.

The particular bug this morning was black and winged. Might have been a beetle, definitely wasn’t a grasshopper. As we trudged down the hill, it was coming up, flying against gravity. It buzzed up and around, a tiny Cessna, a single passenger bug-plane, and as it neared, it’s shadow buzzed along with it, beneath it, on the pavement, not quite keeping up but close. 

Then it buzzed by, taking its shadow with it, and I was left with a sense of awe as I so often am in the desert especially in the early morning when the sun has just started to warm the day and the shadows cast to the west are long.  Awe at the nature of it all.

I don’t know why this struck me today. There are shadows every day; sometimes there are shadows at night, if there’s a full moon. But I couldn’t help but notice, and think that if something casts a shadow, that means there is light behind.

There is a shadow cast across the country now, too. But somewhere there is also still light above. I’m not at all religious, but that light? It gives me hope.

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