Sunday, August 2, 2020


Glory be to God for dappled things.

One perfect June day a few years back Sally and I were biking the beautiful Cannon River Bike Trail in southeastern Minnesota.

I don’t recall why, but I ran out of steam on the return leg and just couldn’t pedal another meter. So Sally went on, offering to come back with the car and pick me up. While she was gone I lay down on the cool grass in the sun-dappled shade of a small tree. I don’t know how long that delicious, breezy cat nap lasted, but when I awoke I was not alone.

All around me shimmered the unmistakable spirit of my long-deceased father. Alas, I couldn’t actually see him. Nor could I hear his voice, but he was there, occupying the spaces between those dancing daubs of light, as sure as if angels had borne him to me from the beyond.

His closeness filled me with awe, moved me to tears.


          Dappling is to light what pointillism
          is to paint. It’s sunlight sprinkled,
          not poured.


As I recall that poignant moment, I realize it’s not all I have to say about that enchanting dance of light and shadow we call dappling.

First of all, what is dappling? The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the noun form, dapple, as: “any of numerous usually cloudy and rounded spots or patches of a color or shade different from their background.”

It’s interesting—and true to my experience—that dapples, whether strewn on the ground, an animal or any other surface, are indeed “usually cloudy,” meaning they don’t have distinct outlines. I’d go so far as to say they’re always cloudy; if they weren’t, they’d be spots or blotches…or something else.


Interesting, too, that the definition says nothing about how much of an area has to be covered in dapples before one can call it dappled. Would a black mare with, say, two grayish smudges be considered a silver dapple? Is a northern pike a grey-green fish with white spots or a white fish wrapped in grey-green lattice?

For the purposes of this treatise, I’m going to just declare that for something to be called dappled, the dapples must cover somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of the surface. And that for sunlight the absolute best ratio is 40 percent sun to 60 percent shade. (The weighting toward shade means the sun-dappled area remains cool. And it allows plenty of space for the light patches to remain distinct even while jostling around.)

      It is a psalm of praise to God for the bounty
      of beautiful things in creation that are not


There’s a good reason why Georges Seurat and some other post-impressionist painters explored pointillism and its cousin chromoluminarism (also called divisionism). The theory was that, instead of mixing primary-color pigments to achieve desired hues, those pigments could be applied to the canvas right from the tube in distinct daubs or dots, leaving the blending of those colors to the viewer’s eye.