Ghosts and Tiny Apertures

WHEN I FIRST started writing this a week ago, the rain was hammering down in vertical sheets, the atmosphere dark and gloomy. Looking out of the window today the sun is bright, the sky blue and I can see the snow capping the mountains just beyond. I'm told when it's raining here, there's snow up on high.


A few weeks ago I started to notice dark softly defined leaf shadows on the ground. They seemed to shimmer slightly above the concrete creating a strange ghostly illusion. Mostly they were leaves from a maple of one sort or another. I thought they were quite beautiful. A timely reminder that Autumn was on its way and the deciduous leaves were starting to fall.

As with all things I can't explain, I google it. What comes up are pages and pages of ways to remove the dark 'stains' from concrete driveways and paths. What I had noticed as fascinating and wonderful, for many is a taint to be removed. A dark stain. Such strange terminology. I learn that the marks are made by the release of tannins in the leaves. The leaf falls. The rain falls. The leaf remains in place for the moisture to work its way into the cells in much the same way hot water releases the tannins in tea leaves when you make yourself a cuppa. The leaf gets blown away in a spell of dry weather and the shadow is left behind. A natural photogram.

Tiny crescents

On the third day of our trip to Vancouver Island in the Summer, we got up a little earlier to get breakfast and wander down to the water's edge to experience the solar eclipse. At this latitude (or is it longitude) we weren't in for a full eclipse but it was enough for the light to darken and the birds to take flight into the trees.

We made a mini projector out of a coffee cup lid and a sharp pencil. The change in light seemed imperceptible at first. The drop in temperature was the first sign that something unusual was happening. Just a few degrees lower and we were zipping up our jackets as we looked out over the horizon. An eerie twilight settled over the sea, the sand and the people sat out in their deckchairs wearing special sunglasses.

With our backs turned against the sun we managed to focus a tiny crescent light through our pinhole projector. The air around us shifted into a strange twilight, yet not quite twilight, but not daylight either. A few minutes of quiet too as everything moving seemed to still. Even the water was silent, the tide out, small waves lifting and falling beyond the shore.

And tiny apertures

As we walked back to our hotel room our kids suddenly gasped in delight. Look! Look! Mini eclipses! As we looked down we saw a scattering of light, crescent-shaped all across the path, wherever the shade of the trees covered. We marvelled at them, gathering the shapes in our hands, watching them spill out across our feet. Sifting through Instagram that evening I come across a post from a photographer I follow, William Morkrynski, who explains how they are formed:

"One of the most interesting phenomena of a solar eclipse, which I've never experienced in person before, (but have been teaching in my pinhole photography workshops) is how every tiny aperture in nature facing upwards is actually a lens. Each crossing of leaves or tiny hole projects a circular image of the sun onto the ground. During an eclipse, the familiar dabs of light scattered under trees change from circles to crescents, projecting the transit of the moon. Our daytime world is actually a giant camera, constantly projecting images of the brightest object in the sky before us."

Such a small thing, a leaf. Yet here they are making photograms on the pavement and creating a lens with every gap in between their canopy. What a surprising place the world can be.