Here comes the sun (sort of)

Visitors to the school will recall that OISE Cambridge is on roughly a ENE–WSW orientation, so that walking through the front door and heading straight out to the garden you are on an easterly track.

5166624230_cc7541c3bcPretty irrelevant information, you might think, even if the low sun in winter might otherwise be problematic – at my own desk at home, which is broadly south-facing, I counter-intuitively have to draw the curtains if the weather is nice.

Why is this on my mind, given that it has been unremittingly grey and wet over the past couple of days in Cambridge? For two reasons.

In the first place, I have just been reading about a Norwegian town, Rjuken, which lies in a deep E-W valley and consequently is in shadow for six months of the year. To combat the annual civic depression attendant on the disappearance of the sun, the people of Rjuken have constructed a system of sun-tracking mirrors on the hills above the town which direct sunlight into the town square. You can see the townsfolk huddled gratefully in the pool of reflected light in this video:

The second reason the sun is on my mind is that yesterday morning I found myself drawn into a discussion of verbs describing light, trying to distinguish accurately, if not memorably, between glint, gleam, glisten, flash, shimmer, glow, sparkle and shine.

There is no doubt that all languages think extensively and deeply about light in the same way that Eskimos are suppose to think deeply and extensively about snow, hence all languages will have a plethora of non-interchangeable words to describe its qualities. There are then, as you might expect, consolations to heading north in winter: for one thing, the sun strikes the earth at potentially more interesting angles (vertical light flattens, as a rule, while oblique light models); for another, the seasons are more sharply distinguished: I had a Norwegian friend who once told me that when spring comes in Bergen, overnight the entire population goes a little doolally.

Perhaps this explains why the people of Rjuken are standing in the town square with their mouths open, worshipping the mirror-idol on the mountain top.

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