Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Magic Light

"I want to be able to describe the light to you, but it's just so ... I just ... I mean, I can't manage the-- I don't think I'll be able to. I want to. I just makes me inarticulate."

"That's okay. Sometimes there's something articulate about being inarticulate."

"Yes. Exactly. And it shouldn't be possible to articulate it. Not when you feel like you glimpse it for a moment. I mean, when you glimpse beauty or ... life. Or just the world. Or something. It shouldn't be possible to articulate the poetry of simply existing."

Mark & Kristy. A phone conversation.

"I just wanted to tell you: I still think of you when the light is good."

Kristy. In a phone conversation.

So, it rained here for a few days. Wonderful, gushing rain.

You need to understand that, for this Red Centre, rain is something of an absent lover. For years at a time, it departs. Seems to forget. Clouds occasionally come, but they are always empty carriages, stopping far off in the distance, vanishing into an infinite expanse of empty sky, leaving no message.

The earth waits. Is resilient. The delicate fronds of mulga and acacia prove they are hardy and can remain beautiful despite long years without nurture. But day after day of dry air saps them. They twist. River red gums look on. Remain tall. They have seen this many times before. Their roots wait in the deeper parts of the dry river. But their branches look bleached. Colour incrementally seeps away. The whites are ghost-like. Insubstantial. The greens -- when they are left -- just look tired. In the sunsets, they reflect one burst of red-gold light. But the deadened brown is creeping.

Then, for a few days, the air was hot and heavy. Where we were usually sapped dry, we lived, instead, through an invisible suffocation in a strange, muted steam.

Then it came.

The air cooled slightly and the skies built up grey from morning 'til night. Then, with a crack of thunder, they broke open. Water gushed down gutters and streets. When it first started, everyone went a bit mad. Like during a full moon. Kids ran around and shouted a lot. Adults got glints in their eyes and seemed pumped full of clean fuel. Tourists were baffled and huddled under the overhangs of shop-fronts, wearing bright raincoats with hoods over their heads. But we felt a delicious energy. Waterfalls tumbled from worn gutters. Voluptuous rain-drops belly-flopped into puddles. Small rivers ran in the streets.

As the days went on, locals stood and looked up in awe. Some stood outside, where they could be closer to this suddenly generous coolness, where they would let the water wash past their feet, where they turn up their faces and allow the cool sink down over them, like an anointing. I saw one smoking a cigarette, put it out and smile. We felt fresh. Like the world had been cooled and bathed.

This went on for a few days. The day would gradually build with excitement, then, in the evening, the rain would fall, like a celebrity making an appearance night by night. It was as if the circus was in town.

And then, the rain had one last hurrah.

When we woke up, we smelt it. The morning was full of rain. Big rain. No one could see blue in the sky. It gushed over everything, almost as if the circus animals had broken loose and were no longer performing tricks in bright colours, but were roaring in the streets. The roads were flooded. When you stepped outside, the rain fell fiercely upon you, suction-ing your clothes to your flesh. When you drove, you couldn't get windscreen wipers to work fast enough. It was difficult to see.

"I hear the Todd is flowing," people said.

It was.

Cars pulled over to the side of the road and tourists and locals alike climbed out to see this dry river run. Children with energy fierce enough to match the rain ran and, with flying leaps, joined the flow of the water.

It rained and it rained and it rained.

Then, in the afternoon, the clouds started parting. They stopped pouring. The ferocious roar was over. With a smiling serenity, the sun came through.

And all the world was bathed in light.

I think it was because everything had been washed. I think it was because their was still imperceptible water hanging in the air. I think it was because it the hot earth had been cooled by water. Whatever it was, it all looked beautiful. The colours were somehow both soft and bright. The shone without glaring. There seemed to be no shadows, but no harshness either. Those red rocks were illuminated with nuances of oranges and purples and pinks that I hadn't precisely seen before. White gums stood tall and clean in the midst of the fresh colours. The ground was covered in light yellow spinifex and newly green grass. There are so many colours in the Territory. And all of them looked like they were having a good day.

The clouds still hung low in the sky, but they were ... softer. Light shone through them. So, as the day lengthened into evening and the sun-rays diffracted through the atmosphere, those low light clouds shone, and so did everything. Everything. The air was full of light. I think there was just enough water in it ... cool water, not humid water ... to diffuse and refract and reflect everywhere. It was like living inside the sunset itself. You should have seen the way the jacarandas looked against the mystical colour of the grey-blue sky and watched that low golden cloud float past. You should have seen then men in town wonder out of their shops and stand in the street, looking up in awe. The whole world turned those beautiful colours of gold and then amber ... then rose ... and achingly beautiful pink ... and lilac ... then indigos ... and then it was over, and it was just cool and dark and clean.

And the next day, it was over. The circus had left the town.

A few people walked along in the river in the morning. I saw a little long-haired blonde girl climb out of a four wheel drive and stand there, looking at the water go past. I saw a lady in an orange linen top walk her dog. The dog bounded in and out of the river. She stretched out her arms ... twirled her hands ... let her head arch back.

But the river quickly soaks into the ground and all the air and light returns to normal ... so much light ... so much heated air ... a sky where clouds can't seem to come.