Thursday, November 05, 2009

Mixed Colors

The day is dreary, subdued, but yet there’s something in the soft wetness that brings out the soul-colors of the foliage. The kind you can’t get right from the tube, not vermillion, cadmium red, Hansa yellow, cerulean, but where you’d have to mix, some orange, some burnt umber for the branches, and a delicious 15 minutes with yellow ochre, alizarin, cadmium orange, raw sienna, burnt sienna, and a bit of hooker’s green—that combination might get one part of the maple out the window there, which holds the kind of muted yellow that looks drab this week, but for 11 months of the year would be seen as astounding, brilliant, off the charts.

How easily we drift into expecting the best and the worst. We expect the fall to look like an image we stored in the back of the memory files from a calendar, or one day last year we defined as perfect. Then anything different is just ordinary, not quite what we wanted.

A couple of weeks ago, the day was soft and rainy like this, the panorama of leaves ranging from deepest forest green to purest red and yellow. Driving my car to Pelham Auto to be fixed, along the roads plastered with brilliant maple leaves, I felt an awe of the season. The woman at the auto place had a different take. Dreary, she said, such rotten weather. Oh, it has its own beauty I said, but turned the conversation to things we had in common—grown children and the town we live in.

But back to mixing—that’s it. The subtlety of a day like today requires that kind of slow attention, nothing showy in it, nothing quick. The kind of attention that sits at the table with the paints at hand and mixes, considers, mixes again, tries a dab on the newspaper, shakes its head, adds a little ultramarine, then a modicum of ochre, and grunts with satisfaction.