Writing Out Loud

Nature’s Crayon Box (From the Urban Wilderness)

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For my readers who do not receive or read the “Journal Tribune,” I will publish occasional selections from my weekly column here.


The Crayola Company has nothing on Mother Nature. I never cease to be amazed at the new colors and variations she is capable of producing. Of course, a lot of it has to do with the amount of light available, the angle from which it is coming, and other meteorological conditions such as humidity level and wind speeds. The color variations in a moving object are not the same as those of a still one, and I am hard-pressed at times to come up with names for some of them.

Color is never a permanent and arbitrary thing in nature, for it changes constantly at the least shifting of light or at the slightest air disturbance. On any given day, a leaf which is commonly perceived as being green in summer or red or gold in the fall is actually capable of dozens, if not more, tonal permutations of each hue during the course of a day. I’ve watched as the rising and setting light alter the color of a flower, turning it from pale pink to flaming red at high noon, and then back to some other anonymous greyed-out shade come dusk.

As children, we learn about color by having different objects pointed out to us; and at first, our color catalog is very basic and limited with little variation. It’s not that, as children, we don’t see all those variations. It’s that we don’t yet have names for them. An apple and Rudolph’s nose are bright red, while a maple leaf or a blade of grass is invariably green. Snow is white, coal is black, and the sky is blue. The sun is yellow, grapes are purple, a tree trunk is brown, and an orange is, well, orange. It’s not until we are gifted with the new 64-count box of crayons one Christmas morning that we begin to realize all the other possibilities and all the different personas that blue can take on beyond simply being what color the sky is on a bright cloudless day.

The truth is that there are thousands of color variations that have no names and that defy naming. It takes months, if not years, of practice and experimentation before a skilled artist can bring a particular shade or hue into play simply by dragging small amounts of basic colors across a palette and turning them into something else entirely. After awhile, he or she comes to know what works and what doesn’t, what to use and what not to use to produce that subtle pinkish-purple tinge across the edges of sunset clouds or within the folds of an iris blossom or that bluish-gray that depicts summer storm clouds.

We spend a great deal of time trying to organize the color in our lives in the most aesthetically pleasing manner possible; but in nature, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. Yet, nothing ever seems to clash in wood, field, or flower bed. No matter the tangled web of tones and textures nature weaves together as life unfurls and spreads. It all works and, in many instances, breathtakingly so. Together with the light and each surface’s particular textures, it is as though she has sat back eyeing this vast canvas with an eye toward painting the most pleasing pictures for our viewing enjoyment.

I’ve stared for some time at a single flower in one of my pots on the deck or at a single cluster of leaves hanging from a nearby maple and watched how it changed minute by minute, second by second. And if I were to be asked what color it was at any given moment, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with one, and doubt I’d even try. Not long ago, I made a poor attempt at describing a sunset to a friend based on a photo I’d taken from my window here overlooking the pond. And the closest I could come to one of the colors the water took on as the sun sank below the treeline was orange-purple. Now, I know there is no such color. But I saw it that day for all of maybe 20 seconds before the light changed ever so slightly, and a new pinkish-mauve shade took over. Only an expert with a movie camera could have captured those subtle changes, and I found myself jumping up from my chair over and over again so that I wouldn’t miss a second of that show!

As I write, I see through my window thick clumps of oak leaves that haven’t fallen yet. They’re dry and curled now, one overlapping the other. And even from this distance, I can appreciate that they are hardly a single shade but rather small individual compositions, if you will, of several. Now if I were still a kid, I’d say that those leaves are brown. I know better now; but there again, I have no words to adequately describe all the other hues tucked in among them. So it’s best to just enjoy them and not worry, considering how good a job nature is doing at keeping me enthralled.


You might also enjoy my updated short story collection available now on Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00JJ259DS



Author: raelove1950

I've been writing personally and professionally for over 40 years, and recently started writing books for Amazon Kindle. During the last 25 years, I have also written for the Journal Tribune in Biddeford, Maine; the Maine Sunday Telegram in Portland, Maine; Current Publishing in Westbrook, Maine; and the Reporter, a weekly newspaper based in Waterboro, Maine. I recently released a book entitled "From the Urban Wilderness: Life in the Southern Maine Woods," which is a collection of essays taken from a weekly column I wrote for the Journal Tribune from 2010 to 2016. It is available from Amazon.com and CreateSpaceStore.com .

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