My morning routine has recently included watching documentaries online about any subject I find remotely interesting. History of Scotland, Dangerous Mathematics, Angkor Wat, you name it. Last week I watched a short one called Dutch Light.

The film sets out a long-held myth that the light in Holland is special, and interviews various artists and historians on their thoughts. It raised an interesting thought for me the rest of the week, and it’s kept popping up in my mind as I watch the sun rise and set over our courtyard. Is the light special here?

Vermeer, View of Delft, 1661

The famous Dutch painters of the Golden Age like Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Frans Hals were known for the way they painted the light. People still rave about how Vermeer gives his subjects that perfect incandescence.

Vermeer, The Milkmaid, 1658

Some theories are that it has something to do with all the water in this country–all those canals and seas and wet polders, bouncing the sunlight into the air. Some say that since the polders were drained in the 50s, the special light is gone, changed, and we’ll never see it again. But since we can’t compare it, we’ll never know.

It’s interesting to think about light, since I see it every day, but I don’t really see it. I’m usually looking at the things it’s touching–the building, the street, the canal, the trees. The quality of light isn’t in the forefront of my mind, but this prompted me to pay attention more, and to really look. And it’s true, the light is beautiful here.

Light over a houseboat on an October morning

Some of my favorite moments here have been biking down the Prinsengracht canal with the warm sunlight filtering through the leaves and pooling on the cobbles. It’s a golden, hazy light, like when you’ve slept in and have nothing to do that day but eat a late brunch. A kind light.

Is it a unique light? Probably. (There’s a whole Flickr group dedicated to it.) Is it more beautiful here than anywhere else? There’s plenty of other places with a claim to a special light, like Southern France, Norway, New Mexico, or New Zealand. But I’m here, basking in this light. So yes, it’s more beautiful to me, because right now, it’s an experience and not just an idea. It’s my light.