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On colors in the snow

>> Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I love what snow does to the landscape and to the way my eyes and mind perceive.  Snow is the ultimate equalizer, turning all the variations in the terrain to vague swells, obscuring the small plants, and silencing most of the sounds.  All of a sudden I notice details in texture, like all the ridges in the tree bark and the way tree branches look like scribbles on white paper.  What textures and patterns there are become so much more pronounced in a world with very little texture other than soft white mounds.

Likewise with colors.  It's incredible to me how red or blue a berry can be, or how orange a leaf or branch.

My snowshoe stroll on Sunday showed up the colors particularly brilliantly because the sky was so leaden.  Even the shadows on the snow were just plain gray, and shadows are very seldom gray even on snow.  On Sunday there just wasn't enough light for the snow shadows to reflect back colors from the sky or the bark or the underbrush. 

As an aside, I recommend spending some time gazing at and contemplating the colors of shadows. There's far more to them than you might think.  Find the blues, purples, greens and umbers. There's a trick to getting your eyes to see the colors, kind of like those magic eye images that you have to stare at until you spot the three-dimensional image hidden in it.  It's like you have to teach your eyes and mind the technique of seeing the shadows in a completely different way.

On Sunday, surrounded by monochrome, the flashes of color in the plants leapt right out at me.

It was so hushed and snowy that for the first 2/3 of the walk I saw nary another creature.  Eventually the chickadees piped up, calling in the trees, and sending soft plumes of snow floating to the ground as they landed on the branches above my head.  Their calls and the creaking of trees blowing in the wind were as striking in the silence as the colors were in the white.

The only other creature I saw out there at all was a brown creeper, which I didn't even know was in this area this time of year.  My trusty Peterson's guide and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site say they do remain around here, though it was my first time spotting one in winter.  Unfortunately, I didn't get my camera out of its case fast enough to snap his picture.  I guess that's one of the hazards of trying to do photography in driving and blowing snow - protect the camera from moisture?  Or have it handy for a fleeting shot?  I leaned toward the former, apparently, and still wound up with snow spots on photos. 

But never mind.  I got to carry the memory of the colors and the wind and the swift flits of the birds back home with me, refreshed as though I had meditated for an hour in the snow.


squirrel January 7, 2010 at 10:00 PM  

I enjoyed your comments in this blog. A always love a new way of seeing things.

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