Anne Horrigan Geary: The colors of winter

Saturday January 12, 2013


The colors of winter are much more subtle than the colors of autumn or summer. There are no wild bursts of red and orange clothing the tree limbs or multi-colored, mop-headed dahlias revving up the garden beds. To appreciate the softer shades of the coldest days requires more careful observation, even if the watching must sometimes be done from the warm side of the windowpane.

Of course, white is the predominant color. Purists would argue that in science white is the combination of all colors; but for our discussion we will stipulate that white is a resident of our crayon box.

Sometimes we can be lucky enough to see a slanting shaft of sunlight slice an icicle, prismatically bending the white light into its rainbow shades; but more likely we just see the partly-clear, partly-opaque icicle dripping water during the day and storing up its frozen droplets when the sun goes down.

At present, a quintet of icy spears is dangling off the roof outside my window. One has dripped water onto an unpruned rose cane, sheathing the top with a layer of shimmer and causing two mini icicles to form near its tip.

Oddly enough there is a cluster of small leaves at the tip of the cane, curved toward the yard, which looks remarkably green from my perspective.

The late season growth seems loath to give up its meager supply of chlorophyll just as the tiny crabapples on my new little tree refuse to drop. They provide a dozen little pinpoints of red freckles against the drifted snow, which is otherwise unmarked in its vast rich whiteness.

Contrasted against the shimmering sheets of white are the blues of winter. I’m not saying there are 50 shades of blue; but there are enough variations of the color to make paint chip producers turn green with envy.

First there are the pale shades of a frosty morning when the sky is washed with the lightest of blues. Shadows on the snow are deeper, darker tones, sometimes appearing marbleized as the shadows are feathered with swirls of sunlight. Deep velvet blues carpet the mountains.

Bright, cloudless blue skies are often seen in the afternoon. They look flat and brittle. When a jet contrail bisects a part of the sky, it seems as if the panes of blue should shatter and fall to earth as shards of tinted windowpanes like the window panels of the Hancock building in Boston so long ago.

My favorite blue is in the ice accumulations which occur on rocky outcroppings along modern highways. There is a sheet of ice almost at the hairpin turn on the Mohawk Trail; it is easy to park nearby and examine the details of nature’s ever-changing sculpture. Another long section of icy blues occurs on the south side of Route 20 between Lee and Westfield.

Whether because of the depth of the ice or the minerals dissolved in the water, the colors vary from palest blue to almost turquoise and the intensity seems to be amplified as the winter progresses.

One last collection of startling blue shades occurs when the bluejay appears on the barren branches of the lilac to check the status of the bird feeders.

The deepest of his blue feathers are almost marine or cobalt blue. He adds a much-needed element of movement to the static winter landscape, and makes one realize that life does exist in the deep freeze of January.

Beneath the blues and whites of winter, lots of action is taking place. Under the drifts of snow, the spring bulbs are waiting to erupt.

"Snowdrops" are not named poetically but because they can coexist in a yard with lingering snow, as long as there is a small patch of warming earth available. As the blue marble of our earth keeps turning and tilting, we are only a few brief spins from the richer palette of spring.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.


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