The other morning around sunrise I walked out of the house into a bitingly cold, still world. It was silent but for my boots creaking on the paving stones, and it was a few moments before my eyes adjusted to seeing the world around me.
I say that my eyes adjusted, but the truth is, my mind had a very hard time parsing what I was looking at. I stood in a world of attenuated color, one so unsaturated that contrast failed and distinctions among objects were dramatically diminished.
The sun was up, and it was not cloudy. It was not the crisp and harsh glazing of ice. It was not foggy—I could see clearly to the far horizon, and every detail stood out from foreground to the distance.
As far as I could see, everything—every last surface and object—was coated with frost. Trees and earth, walls and roofs, grass and stone, everything touched with the same even-handed and egalitarian coating that was just enough to seem like a wash applied to the world. All was evenly muted, reduced to gray scale, toned down a few points.
As I left through the cathedral of the lowlands, the effect was spectacular and eerie. The world around me was luminous and ghostly, light where it is usually dark, yet grey where it is usually bold. The world was filtered for just these few moments. The rising sun promptly reset the palette with a gentle brush, driving off the ephemeral frost in instants, and drawing the underlying color to the fore once again.
If that instant before the sun shone had a sound, it would be one long note, played on a cello.