Approaching the summit of the Coquihalla Pass, we drove into darkling clouds and a deluge of rain. My windshield wipers were ’slapping double time’ as brake lights and headlights probed through the downpour around us. The traffic slowed.
Through rain-slicked windows, the landscape was an awesome, yet ominous, smoky blue black with soft swirls of wispy white and transcendental silver. We were driving through a water coloured canvas of vague impressions and mystical abstractions. Rocky crags and ancient snags were veiled by mist and subtle shadows. I had only a moments glance at a transcendent beauty cloaked by the circumstance of highway traffic in bad weather. This was neither the time, nor place for a long, slow look. Pummeled by the rain, we cautiously drove on. Too soon, we had crested the summit and started the long downhill towards Merritt, leaving behind us Nature’s expressions of the sublime and the awesome.
“What is it about mist that is so intrinsically appealing to us?” I asked Debra. “We like the mystery,” she replied. Steve Odin, a professor of philosophy at the university of Hawaii agrees. “Mists and vapours veiling the transitions between foreground, middle ground and background are one of the revealing characteristics of the Japanese aesthetic of yugen, the mysterious beauty of shadows and darkness”.
"Wherein lies the key to this mysteriousness”? asks author Jun'ichirō Tanizaki. “Ultimately it is the magic of shadows”, he answers.
In his treatise In Praise of Shadows Tanizaki further describes the ephemeral qualities of yugen. “We [Japanese] find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness that one thing against another creates”. “There is a deep beauty to be found in the land of shadows and darkness”, he continues and his words walk me through the dripping trees of Centennial Park in Saanichton Village, or Cathedral Grove at MacMillan Provincial Park. Subtle and errant strays of light direct my attention to potential compositions; an ancient oak, rim lit by verdant moss, a fern, growing up and out of a nurse log. In these examples, the yugen aesthetic is strong, revealed by the hidden depths of a rain-forest that informs the relationship between subject and environment.
There are tensions that I associate with darkness, conflicting feelings, but as Tanizaki observes, “if light is scarce then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty.”