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The Sound in Winter

Edward Hopper never lived on the Connecticut shoreline. But he had the place right. From his venues in Cape Cod and the North Shore of Massachusetts he understood what we understand in the winter around here. There’s still a certain slant to the light and a new color on the water. The sky is lower. The din of summer now replaced by a strong wind.

The water and the sky are framed in Coastal Connecticut by the magic of porches. Hopper had that right, too, and we’ve tried to capture his spirit in this photo essay. As Hopper told Time Magazine in 1948:

“I wish I could paint more,” Hopper says. “I get sick of reading and going to the movies. I’d much rather be painting all the time, but I don’t have the impulse. Of course I do dozens of sketches for oils—just a few lines on yellow typewriter paper—and then I almost always burn them. If I do one that interests me, I go on and make a painting, but that happens only two or three times a year…”

Hopper’s Summer Evening, a young couple talking in the harsh light of a cottage porch, is inescapably romantic, but Hopper was hurt by one critic’s suggestion that it would do for an illustration in “any woman’s magazine.” Hopper had the painting in the back of his head “for 20 years and I never thought of putting the figures in until I actually started last summer. Why any art director would tear the picture apart. The figures were not what interested me; it was the light streaming down, and the night all around.”

The Sound itself changes in its color, chop, and even in the life that still lives there in the cold water. In 2013 the Long Island Sound Survey (a group led by UCONN) wrote that “warmer water in the summer holds less oxygen than colder winter waters. Also, during the summer the surface water of the Sound warms and forms a distinct layer floating over the bottom water, which is denser due to greater salinity and cooler temperatures. This layering (or stratification) of the water column leads to a pycnocline, a sharp density gradient that restricts oxygen-rich surface waters from mixing with the less oxygenated bottom. Wind intensity and direction can also affect the degree of mixing between surface and bottom waters. Coves and protected harbors also can restrict the circulation of oxygen-rich tidal waters.”

No one articulated the beauty and existential detail of winter water as did Thoreau in Walden and the chapter “The Pond in Winter.” He wrote: “Cape becomes bar, and plain shoal, and valley and gorge deep water and channel…Having noticed that the number indicating the greatest depth was apparently in the centre of the map, I laid a rule on the map lengthwise, and then breadthwise, and found, to my surprise, that the line of greatest length intersected the line of greatest breadth exactly at the point of greatest depth, notwithstanding that the middle is so nearly level, the outline of the pond far from regular, and the extreme length and breadth were got by measuring into the coves; and I said to myself, Who knows but this hint would conduct to the deepest part of the ocean as well as of a pond or puddle? Is not this the rule also for the height of mountains, regarded as the opposite of valleys? We know that a hill is not highest at its narrowest part … Every harbor on the sea-coast, also, has its bar at its entrance. In proportion as the mouth of the cove was wider compared with its length, the water over the bar was deeper compared with that in the basin. Given, then, the length and breadth of the cove, and the character of the surrounding shore, and you have almost elements enough to make out a formula for all cases.”

Image Credits: Photo by Moya McAllister

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