Appalachia Sayings from Appalachia

Sun Drawing Water

A few weeks ago, I told you about Granny sharing the old saying “the sun is drawing water” with me. The post generated a lot of comments-clearly showing the saying was common in many parts of the US, and that it can still be heard today.

As sometimes happens, the thought behind the sunshine post spawned a few other sunshine related posts. Today’s guest post is one of them, and it was written by Ethelene Dyer Jones.

My life in appalachia the sun draws water
Sun Drawing Water
written by Ethelene Dyer Jones

Tipper, your photograph and phrase, “Sun Drawing Water” took me back to times when my parents and other relatives in our Appalachian section of North Georgia pointed out the phenomenon to us. And nearly always with seeing “the sun drawing water” image between earth and sky came this weather prediction: “We’ll soon have rain.” As I recall, that happened soon after we observed “the sun drawing water.”

Your mention of it, and the comments I read early, took me on a research trek that revealed much about the phenomenon. Like John (and others) posted, the term means “crepuscular rays.” Where did the term we used or the older “crepuscular rays” originate? I found it was from the ancient Greeks, who, seeking to logically explain phenomena they observed, named it that; and later navigators called the rays “backstays of the sun.” And from Latin, “crespuculum” means twilight. Many times, the phenomenon is seen while there is still light but after the sun has set. But actually, such phenomena can be seen dawn to dusk. Scientifically, the rays are formed when the sun shines through rifts or
breaks in the clouds. The crystalline paths become visible to the naked eye when particles of dust in the atmosphere are touched by the light. It is a “reality parallel.” The same effect, though not with light touching particles of dust, we see by looking at a railroad track as it reaches into the distance.

There are countless entries on the web about the “Sun Drawing Water.” In 1872 artist William Trost Richards painted “Beach with Sun Drawing Water.” It is a realistic painting of just that, the crepuscular rays through clouds above a beach. Later on, in 1933, the artist Arthur Garfield Love painted “Sun Drawing Water.” He was one of the first said to be a “non-representational” artist, in that his paintings did not always represent the real objects. He was one of the school of abstract painters. But in 1925 he had written a poem which he entitled “A Way of Looking at Things” and his abstract painting of “Sun Drawing Water” was done in 1933 to illustrate his poem. I give you his poem here:

A Way to Look At Things

We have not yet made shoes that fit like sand.

Nor clothes that fit like water,

Nor thoughts that fit like air.

There is much to be done—

Works of nature are abstract,

They do not lean on other things for meaning.

The sea-gull is not like the sea,

Nor the sun like the moon,

The sun draws water from the sea,

The clouds are not like either one—

They do not keep their form forever.

That the mountainside looks like a face is accidental.

-Arthur Garfield Love (1925)

I also found a YouTube recording and power-point beautiful photography of composer Sergei Dmitriev Viluman’s “Sun Drawing Water,” a composition for B-flat trumpet and percussion, the recording using the trumpet with 5 gongs and a Miramba. The music is eerie in places, but nevertheless interesting, mood-catching and beautifully illustrated with a plethora of excellent photographs, all of which relate to light. Many of the photographs show images of the “Sun Drawing Water.”

So, to the comments by John, who gave us a definition of the term, and Ed Ammons who so aptly complimented “Blind Pig” entries (and originator Tipper!) for giving us a “daily remedial Appalachian education,” thank you for challenging me to research and find a world of information on a saying that was common to our dear ancestors. I even found this formula for “Sun Drawing Water”:

Sunlight + Obstruction + Scattering Object = Crepuscular Rays (or Sun Drawing Water)

And I found, too, many beautiful photographs. As spectacular one won the “Best of 2011” in the Earth Science Photographs and was entitled (you guessed it) “Sun Drawing Water.” The photograph was made in Cork, Ireland in September, 2003 by Cynan Rees at sunset and was described as showing “crepuscular rays taken after sunset diverging toward the horizon rather than away from it.”

According to the culture, the phenomenon has many names: “Jacob’s Ladder,” (from Jacob’s experience recorded in Genesis 28); the already-noted “Crepuscular Rays,” ”Rays of Buddha,” “Ropes of Maui,” the navigators’ “Backrays of the Sun,” and our own descriptive “Sun Drawing Water.”

Now I’m sure we will all be more cognizant of this phenomenon of cylinder of light reaching from heaven to earth and caused by diffraction, reflection and scattering. Scientists tell us there are also Crepuscular Waves of the Moon which can be seen in the night sky as well as the “Sun Drawing Water” rays seen between dawn and twilight as the sun “rules by day”.


I hope you enjoyed Ethelene’s post as much as I did! Seems the lovely sight of the sun drawing water has been a creative inspiration as well as a weather indicator for many over the course of time.




You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    lynn legge
    September 30, 2012 at 12:48 am

    wow tipper i am so amazed at the information we learn from your site.. you really inspire me to look up things and delve into subjects i would never have thought of. btw i think those two beautiful ladies on the past post… are just perfect the way they are 🙂
    sending big ladybug hugs

  • Reply
    September 29, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Pete-go here to see how Granny makes her pear preserves: for the comment!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Pete Stockard
    September 29, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    Can someone please help me I need a recipe. For old fashion pear preserve the kind I use to remember sliced cooked. but not all to pieces

  • Reply
    September 29, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    I don’t know, B. Ruth, but it’s worth a look! Maybe they are “moonbows”. The one I saw was in the morning- perhaps the moon was still out.

  • Reply
    September 29, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Thank you Ethelene, your posts are always very enjoyable!
    The sun drawing water seems almost magical to our modern eyes,with all the science to explain the phenomenon, I can only imagine how inspirational it must have been to those in earlier times.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    September 29, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    and Charline….Do you think there would be a chance tonight to see a “black rainbow” since after 11:00 we will be in the full moon phase…and with any water droplets around could be?
    I have seen a moon bow…but it had few colors…I wonder if that is the same…
    Thanks Tipper, and Charline…

  • Reply
    September 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Congradulations to you too for
    topping the 1600 readers…Ken

  • Reply
    September 29, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Speaking of visual phenomena, I wonder if anyone else has seen a “black rainbow”, or monochromatic rainbow? I saw one over a field of fog once, just like a rainbow photographed in black & white! I don’t think I’ve seen one since, but have read about them, with some superstition attached. After Tipper’s post about “drawing water”, I tried looking up on the net, but very few photos or articles about them.

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    September 29, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    I very much enjoyed today’s post. Ilearned something I was not familiar with, nor was I aware that so many people knew that idiom. Thanks so much for sharing Ethelene’s post.

  • Reply
    September 29, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Thank you, Ethelene, for such wonderful research and expressing it so eloquently!

  • Reply
    September 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Congradulations to Sheila and Vernon on winning tickets to our
    Folk School Festival.
    Nice job, Etheleyne, on explaining
    the phrase ‘Sun Drawing Water’.
    The picture Don sent in a link are
    like the “rays of hope” we enjoyed
    being there for our friend…Ken

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    September 29, 2012 at 11:47 am

    receiving Blind Pig & Acorn is a daily delight — like a mystery box, you never know what you’ll find.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 29, 2012 at 10:05 am

    The most destructive device ever created by the hand of man is not a nuclear weapon but a simple mirror. It allows us to see ourselves but as the reverse of what we really are. Evil sees good and ugly sees beauty and their obverses. It allows us to see where we have been but the view is opposite that we see if we turn around. It obstructs the view ahead and presents an false image of the past to distract us. I dare say the rearview mirror has caused many more traffic fatalities than the cell phone.
    What does that have to do with today’s post? Nothing! I just snuck it in here.
    Excellent Effort Ethelene!! Especially since I got a mention.
    Thanks Tipper!

  • Reply
    September 29, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Thanks so much to Ethelene for the wonderful post on sun drawing. I enjoy her posts so very much.
    This reminds me of a story about sun drawing and good ole mountain superstition. I had a wonderful aunt to die back in the forties. She was such a jolly and happy person as I recall. Unfortunately, she died back when it was common to have a simple fieldstone to mark the final resting place. The cemetery was large and covered with many of this type of markers. Her husband remarried shorty thereafter, and all her siblings went on with their busy lives raising families. Alas! A few years ago nobody could point out her grave to her daughter, and there was disagreement between two locations. One year they took a picture of the cemetery and there to everyone’s surprise was a picture of the sun drawing which seemed to point directly at one of the possible locations. It seemed that God had taken notice and pointed that sun ray right down on her grave. My family felt this was an answer to their problem. Was it meant to put their minds at ease, or was it just a simple picture of the sun drawing water?

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    September 29, 2012 at 7:45 am

    and Ethelene….wonderful post.
    When I read about the first known painting…It reminded me of an old saying…”There is nothing new under the sun.”
    I wonder if that is what keeps an artist going. We are trying to find something new under the sun.
    Only God knows, but we still try to create and never come close to the designs of the artist in charge!
    Thanks Tipper,
    You are our Sunshine our only sunshine, you make us happy when skys are grey. You’ll never know Dear, how much we love you, please don’t take our Sunshine away!…
    Just thought I’d break out in song for “poops and grins”!

  • Reply
    September 29, 2012 at 7:41 am

    I loved Ethelene’s article!! I have always enjoyed photographing the sky. In the mountains I get so many great clouds and conditions too. This morning included a beautiful pre-dawn rain here. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Reply
    Ethelene Jones
    September 29, 2012 at 7:38 am

    Thanks, Tipper! I sort of got “carried away” as I am wont to do. But you just opened the door to a wonderful experience in learning! May we all be more cognizant of “Sun Drawing Water” and how the phenomenon can be both beautiful and meaningful!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    September 29, 2012 at 7:37 am

    Thank you Tipper, the poem is designed to open our eyes to the wonders of nature. I enjoyed it.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 29, 2012 at 7:24 am

    WOW, Ethelene, thanks for all that information! Especially like the poem, shoes that fit like sand and clothes that fit like water, what wonderful ideas. Guess I like that because I have so much trouble finding shoes that fit.
    We have such magic and beauty all around us. I will never see those sun rays without thinking of this post.
    Congratulations to Sheila and Vernon!

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    September 29, 2012 at 6:59 am

    Thank you, Ethelene, for your well-researched, well-written post.
    There is a close to earth type of crepescular rays which are near to my heart, and which a mountain boy or girl who wanders alongside a mountain stream early in the day during mid-summer is very likely to see – so long as it is a sunny morning, that is.
    In Ethelene’s equation, it is tree leaves which are the obstruction and the moisture droplets are the scattering objects.
    While we do get fogs on most mornings, you can still see this on days where there is no apparent fog, owing to the fact that there is a microclimate underneath the tree cover alongside mountain streams. Even during the dog days, the streams still laugh and play, though at a subdued energy level. The combination of direct spray plus the cooling effect tends to ensure that there are water droplets in the air under the protected leaf cover.
    In the presentation which Tipper and frequent Blind Pig commenters Ken and Lonnie graciously came over to Bryson City to hear the other night, the cover slide included an example:

  • Leave a Reply