Drawing in Shadows

There’s a particular golden tone to Georgian sunlight that I’ve never found anywhere else.  Late afternoon on a cloudless day, the western sky lit with a metallic shimmer that clung, along with the pollen and dust, to cars, houses, and people.  The Midas touch of that light transformed the forest behind my childhood house from conifers and mulch to something fairy-like. Motes of heavy particles drifted lazily in the air, seeking out halcyon lances of sun that found their way through the woven needles of the canopy.  Seldom-tread trails meandered off into the dappled mystery of untouched, unexplored thickets of pines and oaks.  I had no idea where those trails led, what lay at their conclusion, or if they even had an end. I explored them only in my mind; I was too fascinated by the simple mystery of light and shadow.

The light launched at a blazing 299,792,458 meters per second from the heart of the sun, burning through space and atmosphere faster than I could imagine. It burst through the intertwined leaves and branches of that endless forest, and, its fury spent, came to rest gently against the windows at the back of my house. There it danced in slow, intricate patterns, creating a complex natural puppet show.  I don’t know when the idea first occurred to me to try to capture those performances, but I did. At some point it became a favorite pastime of mine to roll out the largest piece of paper I could find and trace those shapes, in all their bizarre detail.  When I discovered that paper was made from trees, I felt an odd, zen-like unity in filling sheet after sheet with the shadows of their living counterparts.  Neither shadow nor paper was, to me, as beautiful as the tree that they had once been, but together they became something new and interesting.   All they needed was me as a go-between.

I spread the paper before me on a table or the floor of our dusty, hot loft.  The air conditioning didn’t work well up there, but I never thought of it as oppressive. Instead, it felt close, private.  Like a wizard’s tower.  I was alone at the top of my home with my imagination and experiments, magically isolated and simultaneously protected by the thickly heated air.  It was just me in my sanctuary, capturing the forever changing line between light and shadow.

My tracings produced impossible landscapes, things beyond simple imagining. They were worlds devoid of life, waiting to be populated by whatever my imagination rolled out.  It was on those pieces of paper that I told my first stories, to myself, as a game.  They were battles or journeys, love stories or contests, and each one had a stellar cast of the improbable characters that only a child can associate with each other. Dragons ridden by superheroes battled their villainous counterparts in a futuristic city. Armies of circles waged war against cadres of invading triangles in deep jungles. A young boy barely survived a thrilling adventure as everything he imagined sprang to life.  An old man found his way home across an ocean.  Godzilla and his monster friends wrecked a city.  The Ghostbusters, the X-men, and the Ninja Turtles teamed up to save the world.  From roach pirates.

Those memories, imbued with light, heat, and youthful awe, have become a beacon in my mind.  Something that I hearken to, creatively, when I think about what fun means to me, and what kinds of stories I want to tell. They also define what I look for in my entertainment.  Not a genre, not a creator, not a specific medium. I’m looking for that curiosity that at one point in life grabbed me by the wrist and dragged the pencil across the paper for me.  I’m seeking the wonder that I felt when simple questions could have fantastic answers. I’m hunting the shadows of trees on paper.