Posted by: Michelle UluOla | March 20, 2010

Lessons From Nature’s Palette

The other day, a friend and I were chatting about the advantages of February being a short month, especially since the one just past had worn out its welcome before it was half over. She commented that when she thought of February, the word gray immediately came to mind, a soft, misty gray. She had the same reaction to November, but that was the hard gray of heavy overcast.

That started me thinking about how we each paint our world with our personal perceptions of it. For me, January feels white, not only because it’s usually snow-covered here in southwest Wisconsin, but also because I think of it as a blank page to write a new year upon. I agreed with my friend about February being gray, all the better to notice the vivid, crimson splash of Valentine’s Day at its heart. March feels transparent to me, as I associate it with wind and transition. April is the soft lime of buds aching to burst free, while May is indigo skies. June is an explosion of annual flower colors; July, red, white and blue; August, washed out green and scorched straw; September, gold and flaming scarlet; and October, pumpkin, burnished copper and maroon. November dons a gloomy look that darkens into December’s blackness that’s punctuated by twinkling lights and brilliant stars.

When I was much younger, I enjoyed living in Seattle for a few years. The color palette there was quite different. While there was the year-round, emerald the city is famous for, the world was also gray from November through March due to almost nonstop rain and overcast. One day early in my first April there, I had a startling revelation when I glanced out the window. The horizon had been shrouded in clouds for months, but suddenly on that crystal-clear day, there appeared like magic, a majestic mountain range thrusting itself skyward. Mount Rainier had materialized in all her glory. It was as if one moment they weren’t there, and the next they were–like someone had twisted the lens adjustment on a camera, snapping the images into sharp focus. It took my breath away, and I knew what Perry Como meant decades ago when he sang that the “bluest skies you’ll ever see are in Seattle.” I really missed the Pacific Northwest’s colors when I later returned to Wisconsin during a snow-less December that was a drab, dirty brown everywhere I looked.

My late husband was a model railroader, and he taught me a lot about how to be an observer. A really good modeler, and George was, creates small-scale replicas of daily life in perfect detail. Before painting the backdrops or constructing the scenery, he would study the real sky, grass, rocks and forests. Then, he would capture the way purple-bottomed clouds skid across a sky that’s multiple tints of blue fading to almost white. His fake grass was many gradations of green and brown; the rock bluffs striated with salmon and gun-metal; and his stands of trees were a mosaic of jade, olive, spruce, russet, black, and navy, all with ashy shadows and gilded with glints of sunshine yellow. I remember laughing nervously when he handed me a list of lady’s eye shadow shades to purchase for him. His Irish eyes twinkled at the expression on my face before he patiently explained that matte eye shadow was the perfect medium for “weathering” boxcars and buildings. Then he added hair spray to the list to use as fixative, and we both marveled at the creativity of the artist who had figured out those techniques. After taking George’s classes, I began to notice that there is no such thing as a drab landscape. Before the snows came, the fields weren’t just brown, they were chocolate, rust, champagne, camel, fawn, coffee, cinnamon, wheat, smoky, brick, and wine-colored. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but when that eye is keenly observing with awareness, oh how much more beauty there is to see!

During the gentler seasons, I always make it a habit to sit out on the patio a few times during each day and night for a breath of fresh air and some “thinking time,” because I feel more connected outdoors. A few years back, I extended that ritual through the winter and found I’d been missing a lot. I had not only been overlooking some wondrous colors, I had also failed to reap the additional lessons that observation can teach.

As the Earth tilted away from Ol’ Sol on a recent evening, I watched as lavender-blue clouds overspread the waiting sky. A misty pink ribbon wove itself along the western horizon, and the land fell silent in anticipation of an approaching storm. Soon after, a brown-speckled house finch returned to her perch on my front porch light where she shelters under the overhang, safe once again before the rains came. Later in the darkness, Storm was building, and Wind announced its intention. I sat out in its midst to experience the drawing near and feel the energy in motion, just as I stepped out under the eaves at the height of the downpour the next day. I discovered that unless I know Storm, I can’t really appreciate the Peace of Calm that follows and all the tones and hues they each bring. It was all too magnificent to miss!

After Storm passed, Fog rolled in, thick and misty, fueled by the warmer air caressing the dwindling snow piles. I listened to thawing chunks of ice clang along the downspouts and melt-drops splashing into the puddles on the concrete. I could hear the snow liquefying, and I could feel winter starting its accelerated dissolve into spring. I remembered that if I pay attention, Mother Nature will show me her beauty and reveal her secrets. I invite you to join me in remembering. ©UluOla 2010

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Responses

  1. Michelle, your words are so colourful, I love your Nature’s Palette♥

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    • Thank you for your kind words and support, Angelika–you made my day! 😉

      Like

  2. Nice job. I was just reminding Jen today, on the way to your house, to look closely out on the horizon towards the “blue mounds.” “That is why,” I told her, “the barn scene on Matthew’s wall has deep blue and green mounds on the horizon.” I love the outdoors too. The intricacies of the colors were driven home to me, as well, when I watched the artists paint the flora scene in the stairwell at work. I wondered why he painted with so many natural colors and then covered them up. Throughout the mural, bits and pieces of the layers were left in view…as in nature. Not one color, but many.

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    • Thank you, Janine! Yes, Bluemounds really does look blue! That’s a fantastic scene you painted on Matthew’s wall–he was lucky to grow up with that daily inspiration. And those stairwell scenes at the hospital are fabulous works of art that enhance wellness for patients and employees–many strokes of genius! 😉

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  3. I lived in northern Maine for 27 years and the weather is quite similar to where the UluOla lives. While there, my husband and I developed a friendship with a local restaurant owner, actually a dilapidated building but the best hamburgers around along with 10 cent coffee and plenty of neighborhood conversation. Anyway, we asked Stan one day how his day was going. He replied, “Everyday is a good day, some are just better than others.”

    That has always stuck in my mind and the seasons fit in with it. No matter how gray or brown a day you are having, a small rainbow always seems to peek in. When February came, we knew it could sucker punch us with days of clouds and grayness, but then if you went out an walked on the crunchy snow and breathed in the cool crisp air, it would help illuminate the day again with a fresh feeling.

    Now that we live in Arizona, we have very few days we can color gray or brown and sometimes that is sad because we need to reminded that everyday is a good day.

    Kudos cousin on a good posting.

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