Running or biking on the bike path in Boulder, Colorado is kind of like eating a deep-dish pizza in Chicago or looking at that arch in St. Louis: you have to do it at least once when you’re there. I lived in Boulder for about 4 years, which meant lots of runs on the famous path that follows the Boulder creek, winds its way past the University of Colorado campus, and even heads into the mountains toward everybody’s favorite hippy town, Nederland.
I ran almost the whole year round, save a few weeks when ice and sub-freezing temperatures made running less like fun and more like an endurance prize. This allowed me to savor the differences in the seasons, and particularly notice the changing light.
There is nothing like the light in Boulder. In the late afternoons it will cut between the mountains and create long shadows over parts of the town. In the mornings, the plains to the east leave no obstructions to the sun, making a bright welcome to the day.
My favorite time of year is the fall, as the brutal summer gives way to cooler evenings and longer shadows. On the bike path, in a late afternoon in October, I would often feel the kind of happiness that could also be sadness. Happy at how perfect things are, but melancholy because you are aware of the passage of time and how nothing remains the same forever.
I used to think it felt like the end of the world. Not in a disastrous way or a whimper, either. It felt like a sigh right before falling asleep. I remember feeling it was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever been.
Light is an important part of Boulder, and of all the places I’ve been to in Colorado, partly because there is so much of it. Add that to the steep, jagged mountains that throw intense shadows across the landscape, and you’ve got to pay attention to the way light looks. It changes things throughout the day and year. I kept trying to capture moments of it in photos. These two pictures were taken on a dirt road between Crested Butte and Aspen.
This is not to say Colorado has a lock on light. Arizona has light everywhere. Everything is illuminated! The sun washes everything out. I think of the word “blasted.” It’s strange on a cloudy day, because you can see so much depth. Usually the mountains look almost two dimensional because there is little shadow.
When I draw Falling Rock I try to keep that flat desert look. If Ernesto and Carver ever go exploring in the mountains, I’ll have to introduce some shadows and depth to the landscapes.
Every place has a different feel, and I’m beginning to suspect it all has to do with light.