Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Color in Black and White
The world outside my window is grayscale today. Snow covers the lawn and shrubs. Trees splay their branches like black, wispy webs against colorless sky, light snow filling the spaces between them. Another winter day begins. The new fallen snow is dull, lacking the glistening of sunshine upon it. I long for sunshine and the warmth that sunshine allows me to imagine, even when the temperature hovers well below freezing.
Don’t misunderstand. I love snow, but in mid-winter I long for the colors of the other seasons: spring green foliage dotted with pink, yellow, and white blossoms; vibrant roses, gerbera daisies, and zinnias of summer; autumn’s leaves in hues of gold, brown, and red. Comparatively, winter is drab, color seemingly suspended, along with hibernating reptiles and dormant tulip bulbs.
I am as drawn to color as a hummingbird that on summer days is attracted to the boldest of blooms. My wardrobe has always been vibrant, much to the chagrin of my fashion expert friends. Classic whites, beiges, and blacks are rare finds in my closet. When I first happened upon a “Dressing Gaudy” store, I flitted furiously from rack to rack in great excitement, resembling said hummingbird. I rejoiced, knowing that others of my kind existed in numbers at least great enough to justify our own store.
Upon traveling to Africa, I was delighted to discover many more of my kind while attending an event of high intensity, both in color and energy. African women came swathed in bold batik and kente fabrics, boasting every polychromatic tint and hue. In a culture of almost exclusively earthen toned backdrops, colorful adornments ignite both the landscape and the spirit.
In expressing my delight over this visual feast I remarked to my African hostess on the contrast between colorful African attire versus Americans’ more casual, reserved color and style preferences. “Americans take so much for granted,” she stated simply. I knew she was right, and I also knew that her comment encompassed more than color choices. I felt rich in the midst of Africa’s extreme poverty, and conspicuously healthy as I witnessed firsthand the effects of AIDS and other serious illnesses.
I smile on this dreary day, envisioning ebony women in bright raiment dancing in settings of sepia. The memory sends me twirling in my plaid housecoat, pirouetting in pink fluffy slippers. A flash of red in a setting of gray stops me mid-turn, causing me to pause and peer out my kitchen window.
I lean against the counter, taking in the vision. A red-headed woodpecker with black and white flecked belly hangs upside down on the birdfeeder. Slightly faded gold finches select their favorite offerings from above, dropping several tidbits to the ground below, where a cardinal cheerfully retrieves them.
Two brilliant blue jays flapping azure wings arrive, sending the finches skyward and the cardinal to nearby branch where it preens its scarlet plumage. The picture perfect scene is stunning.
Color, it occurs to me, is greatly enhanced by lackluster surroundings. In the same way that good health is more valued in the context of AIDS, and wealth against a backdrop of poverty, color is more beautiful in grayscale.
Do you suppose that, knowing this, the world’s Master Architect and Builder wisely planned for vibrant birds to spice up winter landscapes? Today, as I survey the scene in my own backyard, I am more convinced than ever that He did. Today I realize anew that I have taken much for granted.