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16. Light
By Gretchen Legler
Genre: Non-fiction
Category: Student Examples

Writing Assignment:

Try writing, in about 250 words, about light in the landscape that you are in, or one that you remember. Focus on a color or quality of light. How it moves or sits in the landscape. You may also want to compare the quality of light at, say different times of day, or different times of the year.

Writing Sample:

The most spectacular light in Antarctica occurs during Winfly, the period just after the Antarctic winter when the sun begins again to rise and set. The first sunrise after the four month dark period of winter is on August 19th. The sun will rise and set, then, until October 23rd, which marks the day of the last sunset of the season. From then on, the sun never sets. There is eternal day, made brighter, even, by the white snow and ice and are everywhere in Antarctica. The sun begins to set again on February 19th. Total darkness sets in on April 25. During the Antarctic winter, when the skies are black, the aurora Australis lights up, scattering the sky with green and pink and yellow lights. Winfly light and glacierIts the low sun angle of Winfly that makes the colors then so vivid. Each morning and evening the mountains, the sea ice, towering Mt. Erebus, the edges of the glaciers, the ancient wooden explorer's huts and the newer prefabricated metal buildings of the usually dingy town of McMurdo, glow peach and pink, nearly neon, buttery yellow. When I first came to McMurdo, I could look out across the sea ice at the Transantarctic Mountains and see the mountains revealed as mostly black or white, depending on whether it was day or night, against skies that were lit up like fire. Like fire. Or washed in cool blues and pinks. When I was out on the sea ice, exploring near the Erebus glacier tongue and evening came on, the entire edge of the glacier lit up in a smooth, creamy gold and crept up the sides of the huge volcano. The colors seemed improbable. Impossible. One night, on the way back to McMurdo from Cape Evans, the light on the horizon was incredible. Incredible I tell you. Like the brightest peach and pink and yellow I have ever seen in a sky. And there were strange dark clouds in the sky too, thin wispy clouds that looked like letters. It was if someone had written lightly in the sky, some kind of careless script. I tried to make out a word. What could it be? But as Winfly wore on, I noticed that I'd look out my window each day and the mountains that I'd seen earlier as solid, as one-dimensional, as either white or black, were beginning to take on new shapes because of the increasingly rising sun angle. I could see deeper and deeper into the range. I could make out valleys and peaks that I'd not seen before. The effect was much like turning on an overhead light in a room where you've been reading quietly with only your bedside lamp turned on. Brightness began to overwhelm everything, illuminate everything, but shed a harsh light. Now, it is light 24 hours a days. At bedtime I need to wear sunglasses in my room if the curtain is open. I put a blanket over my window at night for some darkness. I rise at 7:00 a.m. and it is just as bright as when I went to bed. It is a shock, to be out with friends drinking tea at night, open the door of the coffee house to step outside and make our way back to our dorm rooms, and blink into the brightness. Just to peer out my window onto the sea ice to check the weather conditions, I need sunglasses. All the time I am wearing them, trying to protect my eyes from the light.


In this short piece I contrasted the light conditions during two very different times of the year in Antarctica. I tried to come up with new ways to describe the light, and I tried to stay away from superlatives, i.e. "It was beautiful." Although I do use the word "incredible" twice, to drive home the point that I was astonished by this light.
Copyright 11.24.97

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