Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Color of Snow


Up here in Minnesota we don't take snow for granted; some winters—including the current snow-challenged season—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?

2 comments:

jennifer JHM said...

Nice shot. The most colorful I've seen was The Kazakh Steppe - from a train as far as my eyes could see and yes colorful.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks, Jennifer. I wish I could see that!

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