Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Elongating shadows

Perhaps 25 or 30 years ago, I went back to the grade school I used to attend. Someone was with me, most likely my youngest sister. I don't remember now what the purpose of the visit was. The school had gone through quite a bit of changes since I had been there, especially to the playground, and perhaps the visit was to look at those changes. The school wasn't open at the time. It was either a weekend or during summer vacation, or both.

We were leaving then, slowly walking back in the broad aisle that ran between the buildings. The school was set up in long rows of buildings, with classrooms on each side. Between the buildings were wide aisles, with broad sidewalks by each building and large square blocks of landscaping in the middle, with walks that crossed over to each side. Halfway along the buildings was a large opening, allowing a wide walkway that went from one side of the school to the other.

We were leaving, but were still closer to the back than the front. We walked along, talking, separated by a bit, sometimes as much as 15 feet or so, with me lagging behind. As I walked, I looked at the shadows cast by metal structures, lattice-like, that periodically crossed by overhead from building to building, and at the shadows cast by the objects in the planter areas, and at the shadows of the thick brick pillars that supported the roofs over the sidewalks. It was late afternoon.

I noticed that as the shadow of my head approached the other shadows, frequently just before they contacted each other the shadow of my head would elongate out in a bump, usually on the left side, just before the shadows merged. When they did merge, they rounded into each other, at least for a while.

It seemed much more common if the shadow of my head was about to contact the shadow of something slanted, like a metal bar in the lattice. It was probably more often on the left side of my head because that was the side that tended to be closer to the shadow being crossed.

I thought about why it could be happening, but the most I could come up with was that for some reason the shadows pressing on both sides caused the light between them to become dimmer, but I wasn't sure if that was correct. With something like that happening, I would have just expected the light to become dimmer between the two, not for one shadow to elongate toward the other. It didn't seem to explain, either, why most of the elongating occurred with my head and not the other object. I suppose it could have something to do with the different distances to the pavement.

It all seems very strange, though, and not what I would have expected.

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