Wednesday, January 19, 2011


It was certainly a white Christmas here in Minnesota. In fact, it's been a white winter, with 55 inches so far here in Minneapolis—and our snowiest months yet to come.

We don't take snow for granted; some years our winter landscape ranges from one tone of gray to another. It's then that we appreciate how much color snow brings to the winter palette. Remember: white is not the absence of color; it's the presence of all colors.

How many colors do you see in snow?

Our eyes do a funny thing with color. We tend to perceive it only in comparison with its surroundings. Since there's seldom anything more "white" in our view than fresh snow, we think of it as all white, pure white. But if you could tear out a swatch of that "white" and paste it down next to some other apparent whites, all their distinct hues would be obvious. (I deal with shades of white and black in my 12/9/10 post, Black & White – And Other Shades of Gray.)

I've done this exercise on paper, and I do it in my mind's eye all the time, so I know what to look for. Today, for example, the fresh snow on gabled roofs across the street is tinged with lilac—reflecting the influences of a patchy blue of sky, a dab of brick red from adjacent walls, and perhaps a muting hint of cloud gray.

The sun's last rays still caught the top of the next ridge, like a great golden-glowing knife slicing through thick charcoal.

I've seen snow tinted every imaginable color: pinks, blues, golds, even greens. Perhaps the most memorable example caught my eye several years ago on a cross-country ski trip on the North Shore of Lake Superior. We'd been skiing all afternoon. The conditions were perfect; the biggest challenge was the sun's blinding glare off of the fresh snow. Later, as the sun nestled into the horizon, the cold and the gray wrapped somberly around us. Nearing the trailhead, we turned to cross the top of one last ridge, and there, a half mile off to our right, the sun's last rays still caught the top of the next ridge, like a great golden-glowing knife slicing through thick charcoal.

Now that I'm attuned to the colors of snow, I can't help seeing them. In fact, I'm thinking, snow without color must be very rare indeed. If one were ever to behold it, possessed of its full complement of color and light—in other words, perfectly white—I suspect it might be a profound, even disturbing, sight, the eye's equivalent, perhaps, to the ear's perception of absolute silence.

Where was the most colorful snow you've ever seen?


Post a Comment

Thanks for visiting One Man's Wonder! I'd love to hear your comments on this post or my site in general.
And please stay in touch by clicking on "Subscribe" below.