Thursday, January 15, 2015

OFF COLOR - Dirty Words About a Gray Minnesota Winter

I’ve been trying to be more appreciative. Too often, I find my view of the here-and-now obscured by inconsequential thoughts and concerns, or just the mindlessness of rote behavior. So, instead of that mental to-do list held up in front of my mind’s eye, instead of that subconscious autopilot that so often steers my motions, I’m changing the script.

I seize on something that catches my eye—or ear…or nose—and, while holding off competing thoughts, very deliberately think about its wondrous qualities. It’s a little like focusing on one’s breathing while settling into a meditation.

 This building has a nice patch of red, which this 
 morning, against a precious robin’s-egg-blue sky, 
 I decided to take as a gift.

This morning it was a building, just an ordinary building, one of the scores of new luxury apartment and condo buildings popping up here around the University of Minnesota East Bank campus over the past few years.

Most of these structures—in fact, most of the buildings in our part of the country—are quite obviously designed for gain over grace, doing little, esthetically, but take up space. But this one has a couple of nice patches of red, which this morning, against a precious robin’s-egg-blue sky, I decided to take as a gift.

PHOTO: Metro Park East Apartments

I treasuring the gift for a few seconds, imagining I’d just experienced color for the first time. For that brief interval, I’d managed to clear away the fog of busy-ness and appreciate that color—that clear, intense cardinal red—as the miracle it is.

What a wonder that color exists at all, its raison d'ĂȘtre solely the fact that most of us creatures with eyes can see it, perhaps draw some meaning from it and, if we’re lucky enough to be human, describe it.

Contrary to popular myth, nearly every species of animal can distinguish some degree of color variation. Even most nocturnal creatures (including dogs and cats—categorized as such for their original waking/sleeping cycles) can make out some colors, though far fewer than we humans and other diurnal animals.

But there do exist a very few animals, including some nocturnal rodents, most sharks and a related fish called a skate, which most marine biologists believe see only in shades of gray. (These animals might just love Minnesota’s more typical ashen winter days!)

There are some human beings who can’t see colors. I guess you could say it’s fortunate that the vast majority of these monochromats are born with the condition. Imagine being robbed of color after you’ve already experienced it.

Anyway, just knowing this—that not everyone enjoys the wonder of color—makes me notice and appreciate it even more. I’ve touched on this often in my writings, sometimes analogizing color to a kind of rich, savory food that nourishes my eyes, my heart and my spirit.

      By 4:30 we just hunker down and live 
      with the pangs of our deprivation.

Here in east central Minnesota, my wife and I feel the hunger building each year by late November. Trees denuded, shriveled to gray stick figures; grass sapped of green, then smothered in white. And it just gets worse. By mid-December any thin wash of color that does remain gets swallowed in darkness by 4:30. We just hunker down and live with the pangs of our deprivation.

(Yes, I’ve been known to preach here about how much color there is to be found in our winter landscapes if one really looks. (The Colors We Bring) But, truth be told, we just get weary of having to try so hard.) 

PHOTO: WSAW News, Wasau WI
We know there are nutritionists who'd prescribe a diet of southern California or Florida for what ails us, but we don’t trust them. Not enough quality control in the kitchens that fix this fare; too often it loses its potency to some tropical depression or continental-scale polar vortex.

No, we’ve found the best, most reliable color diet in Mexico—specifically, in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, on the Pacific coast just north of Acapulco. There, the color is fresh off the tree, still warm from the sunny vineyard. Leaves stay green and flowers bloom all the time.

Folks in Mexico aren’t content with a little dab of red on a building. They paint their houses colors that would be, you know, frowned on in Minnesota. When you think of it, all they're doing is mirroring Nature. The sea, the critters, the plants, the arts and crafts, people's skin…oh, and yes, the food, all feed us, sustain us with their colors.

Every precious day we’re there in Zihuatanejo we watch it, walk through it, bathe in it, just sit there in awe of it. We eat it up...and then keep going back for seconds.


sue in mexico mo said...

I will be in Zihuatanejo next month! Missouri winters are also dreary. . .

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hey Sue -- I think of you now and then. So you're going in Feb. I forgot where you say you usually stay. We're in La Ropa, near the dolphins statue.
I'll bet you're starving for color and warmth just like we are. Buen viaje!

Anonymous said...

Paint a room in your house a bright Mexican color - I did.
Enjoy your winter break.

Jeffrey Willius said...

We did too, Jen! Several rooms...and we have lots of color in furniture, rugs & art on the walls. Now if we could only paint some of our neighbors' houses pink, orange, purple...

Ruthie Redden said...

Great new script Jeffrey, focusing the mind is a great way to appreciate the things we would normally just pass by. I do love colour and a splash of it here and there works wonders. Happy New Year to you.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Happy new year to you too, Ruthie. If memory serves, you're in a place which doesn't have cold, gray winters -- am I right?

Ruthie Redden said...

It's mostly not too bad here Jeffrey, with the wide open skies and the hues of heather, mountains and seas it does make a big difference, However when the clouds come down and it gets so dark you can hardly see then its big grey skies. But no, on the whole the ligh here is wonderful, this corner of the world is renowned for its light quality and a littel town not far away called Kirkcudbright was in the 18/1900 called the artists colony, and still is filled with artists seeking the amazing light and landscapes.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Speaking of winter, Ruthie, what an amazing find with the hair ice you shared on Facebook! Wow!

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