In Search of Color

DSC_0011A Sunday in late February: a scatter of lovely days and then today a cooling off: in the fifties and damp, with a freeze expected tonight and tomorrow night. It seemed the only sensible place to search for color was in the little greenhouse.

The aloes have bloomed, and the mother-of-thousands – different varieties whose names I don’t even know. Coral blossoms the size of a fingernail cluster on long stalks held high above fat jagged leaves. If I leave the greenhouse residents alone as they like to be left, there’ll be flowers for weeks.

But it was so warm yesterday ahead ofDSC_0004 the cold front, I thought I’d give everybody out there a shower, make sure the little milk house heater was set on low, and zip the door shut until things warm up again. I couldn’t resist screwing on the macro lens and attempting a few shots of Queen’s Tears (Billbergia nutans), the bromeliad that bore almost no flower stalks a week ago and now appears to want to blossom completely behind my back.

There are clusters of Queen’s Tears here and there in the yard, up to their necks in mulch. I have no idea whether they will bloom or not. I certainly wish they would, but you know what wishes count for – especially in gardening. And bank accounts.

I thought it would be fun to offer a few photographs of colorful things.

On the back fence, a few Carolina DSC_0006Jessamine flowers hang on what stems have made their comeback from complete decimation a couple of years ago. The darn thing is so toxic I hardly regretted taking it to the ground when the fence had to be replaced; but I miss the vivid perfumed blanket of yellow and the audible hum of bees.

This year all we have to offer at this time of year is the rough six-foot hedge that stands between our fence corner and the barren yard next door. It’s currently in bloom and buzzing, which is nice; but the floral, um, scent is a bit too reminiscent of porta-potty disinfectant to fully enjoy. The bees like it, though, which is all that matters.

Around the neighborhood the Bradford pears are in flower. There’s a tree we can all be ambivalent about: cheap, short-lived, set in place by developers all over the state; but covered in white flowers at this point, and months from now their vivid crimson will create some of our most stunning autumn foliage. I’d have taken a photo on our walk this morning, but the white flowers against the white sky were beyond my skill. You’ll just have to picture apple blossoms on a cloud-locked morning.

Travis and I have had some good IMG_0677walks lately. The woods are a perfect example of a strange place to go looking for color at this time of year, all the deciduous trees barren and the earth smelling decidedly composty.

Fortunately, I have to keep my eyes on the ground pretty much the entire time to keep from breaking my neck; and that’s the place where most late February color resides. I’ll be going along a rocky trail in the midst of a landscape of grays, when suddenly a carpet of strewn green appears like an area rug.

Close up, the carpet is made of aIMG_0678
zillion tiny brilliant green stars. I suppose a worthwhile gardener would strive to know the names of all these plants, but I don’t even know the names of my own greenhouse’s inhabitants.

We recently attended a party where one of the guests had recently been certified a Master Gardener – what an enviable title! But I imagine at least some memorization must go into achieving such a lofty status, and that is just not going to happen for me. Besides, people would be asking advice; what if I steered them wrong? It seems sufficient responsibility to try to steer students and patients.

Besides, enough pleasure resides in the ability to savor a green carpet composed of tiny green stars. I can’t imagine enjoying it any more if I were to know its name.

Elsewhere, I saw new shoots of inland IMG_0681sea oats near the dam where Travis loves to swim. This morning he seemed intent on getting a dog standing with his parents on the other side to leap into the rushing water and be a dog! Which the good sport did, impressing me with his willingness. I was even more impressed by how that dog was able to leap up from the water onto the slippery steep rocks of the dam. I swear some dogs can levitate.

That couple, and two trail runners, were the only people we saw in the greenbelt this morning. I imagine people took advantage of yesterday’s lovely weather and contented themselves with staying comfortably home on a cool damp Sunday morning. On our walk yesterday Travis and I encountered several groups of mountain bikers, each one of which Travis looked at longingly like a little orphan dog in search of his dad. But Floyd and his friends were riding other trails, so we never had the happy reunion for which our pupdog was hoping.

Floyd was walking with us today though, IMG_0692which meant two things: a much faster pace and the freedom to take trails we don’t generally attempt on our own, such as this one perched high above the dam where the dogs had just been swimming.  Even as I write that I’m kind of sorry Travis and I don’t venture away from familiar paths more often. I think next weekend we should resolve to get ourselves good and lost for a while.

This photo shows the range of colors available at eye level: cedar foliage and sticks, the clear creek water giving back nothing but the dull sky. But perhaps there are some advantages to winter’s muted palette. There’s no getting away from the reality of dissolution and decay, cycles of life and the frailty even rocks exhibit. Everywhere, reminders of how fragile we all are. (I am re-reading this and trying to figure out exactly how the contemplation of our fragile existence and impending demise is an advantage. I’ll have to get back to you on that.)

Some of the trails we walk have little DSC_0019wooden signs pointing out what I believe to be the geologic features upon which one finds oneself standing. “Dissolved Layers,” “Dissolved Fractures,” “Flood Plain.” It’s enough to make me envision disaster looming at every footfall. (Not to mention that I have been listening to a most excellent murder mystery, The Girl On The Train, on my hikes. Death is everywhere, I’m telling you.)

So I know these signs are about local IMG_0675geology, but they make me think of the trees that live here, grow old, split, end struck by lightning, fall, and collapse back into the earth. I saw one today that seemed to have exploded, blown apart from the inside to fall in four piles of now-decaying wood. At the very center of this photo, in the midst of all that softening wood, someone has placed a fist-sized crystal.

Trees, rocks, earth, decay, human hands. Sometimes I think the woods are just too busy for me.

But we were talking about color.

I will say this: I was glad to emerge from the greenbelt this morning, although the wind on the streets was lively and unfriendly toward someone like me, attired by that point in the hike in damp cotton. I had to imagine I was in England just to be able to tolerate the last quarter mile, reminding myself that in a few minutes I could be in a hot shower. The remainder of the weekend’s color search would be taking place indoors, thank you very much.

It is mildly embarrassing, however, DSC_0003to admit that said indoor color search took me to counted cross-stitch, of all things. I’d rather be sewing, but I was too lazy to get myself to the fabric store; so I turned to a project that has existed on the periphery of my life for a few years now. This one resides most of the time in the guest room, where even unfinished it makes a perfectly nice decorative statement atop a tall chest of drawers. I like to think our guests appreciate a hostess who falls very far short of perfect, and who even leaves unfinished projects here and there to gather dust.

But when I’d finished bathing the house in Tuscan colors, I retrieved the thing and threaded the dull needle once more, moving the project to my sewing corner where light is good and I can watch “Breaking Bad” for the second time while engaged in an activity better suited, perhaps, to watching “Emma.”

Right near me as I stitch is a card my DSC_0017best girl Mary sent me a couple of years ago. She is prone to mailing me periodic reminders that the sea remains in existence and more or less patiently awaits my return. I’ve wanted to have a little something with Isak Dinesen’s famous quote on it for quite a while now, and so a few months ago decided to do a watercolor with real true (yes, the hard ovals in a plastic tray) kid paint. I should probably stop looking at that blog, because those girls make it seem perfectly normal to spend your time making stuff out of paper and colors.

Anyway, I lettered in the quote and sent my little production to live at the bottom of a very heavy stack of books. I’ll forget it after a while and then rediscover it at some point in the future, beautifully flat and suitable for framing.

As I wrap up this edition, it is a Monday morning and I really ought to be on my way to school. But the weather is wet, hovering just barely above freezing, and the fireplace is flaming cheerfully. It couldn’t be more difficult to get out the door!

I imagine a fair number of my college seniors won’t get out their doors at all this morning, and I won’t blame them a bit.







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