Blue Light Special

When I first started college, before I decided to become a wildlife biologist, I was an art major. Science and the arts (including music and writing) were always competing for first place in my heart, at least until I realized I didn’t have to choose between these two loves.

Now that I no longer think of my interest in words and colors and sounds as a distraction, I’ve come to recognize that my eyes are tuned in to subtleties in the quality and spectrum of light that not everyone appreciates. Maybe they don’t notice, or perhaps their eyes are tuned in to stations I can’t pick up.

Winter has a signature wavelength, as do the other seasons, of course. December is the year’s blue period, and it’s never easier to see the sky snuggled up close to the land than after a snow.A long time ago, I read somewhere that the human eye can perceive more shades of blue than any other hue. I don’t know if this is true but I do love noticing the variations of sapphire, denim, indigo, ultramarine, and slate stretched out beneath a tree, or huddled beneath a stone overhang.
Once the cloud clear and the temperatures warm up, beautiful topographies form as the snow blanket settles and conforms to the contours of the land beneath.Light and shadow and texture add to the diversity of blue notes, creating a tune that’s perceptible only to the eyes, not the ears.

On a sunny, sparkling, snowy day, there’s nothing sad about having the blues.

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Jussi-Teppo Toivonen, Ed Suominen, Doruk SikmanCindy ZackowitzPhil Roeder, Jussi-Teppo Toivonen, Marilylle Soveran, Evelyn Berg, and Larry Lamsa© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

Evergreen

Now that the bright reds, yellows, and oranges of autumn are gone or fading, it’s nice to see a little green on the landscape. I wonder if that’s why Christmas trees were able to make the leap from German tradition to what would now be termed going viral.

Conifers are a reliable source of verdant life during the winter months, but there are other plants that stay green, or even bloom, when temperatures drop and stay in the teens or lower, or when snow and ice come calling.

Cedar trees keep their greenery and they also smell great (to my nose, at least).

Snowdrops aren’t afraid of Jack Frost, or Frosty the Snowman either!

English ivy isn’t a native son (or daughter) of North America, but it’s become so ubiquitous you could be forgiven for not realizing it’s an invasive, as well as a reliable source of greenery in December (that may have contributed to it’s popularity with homeowners, and it’s spread across a new continent).

Pines and firs aren’t the only traditional winter holiday plants, of course. There’s holly…and we can’t forget mistletoe!
I know, I know… mistletoe is a parasite so I probably shouldn’t make any promotional efforts, but hung above a doorway it provides a great excuse to smooch with your sweetie so I’ll let it slide.

These are just a few examples of plants that brave winter’s chill… share your favorites in the comments section below!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: It’s Raining, It’s PouringShawn Harquail, Bob Travis, Susanne Nilsson, Merv Stapleton, Hornbeam Arts, and Kay Wrathall© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

Golden

 

For much of the year, I would have to say yellow is my least favorite color. I don’t actively dislike this lemony hue… it’s just that I find most of the others more appealing.

But in autumn, yellow really comes into its own, beaming back all that hoarded sunshine.

The mercury has been on a fall roller-coaster ride here in southwest Virginia, and the leaves have been slow to reach peak. This week, I’m especially taken by amber leaves with the memory of bright lime green still visible. When I take the time to pay attention, I see so many variations of this leafy golden light… saffron, mustard, butter, honey, canary…

No wonder I feel I’ve caught some rays during my daily walks, even when the sky is gray!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Henner Zeller, Liz West, Philip BouchardJeff, Robert Easton, and Aurelio Asiain© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

Bittersweet

I’m visiting my hometown of St. Louis this week, and the trip is bittersweet.

It’s a beautiful time of year here in the heart of the Midwest. I’m having a chance to reconnect with a childhood friend, visit favorite places, and discover what has changed since I moved away about 18 months ago.

But I also lost a first cousin earlier this month, which was a shock to everyone because he had appeared to be in great health. Being back home brings up lots of memories of him and other family members who are gone.

I know there are plenty of people who find autumn sad and depressing… summer’s long, verdant days and warm nights, barbecues and baseball games, fireworks and theme parks have had their day in the sun, and the days are shorter and darker now.

It’s been a difficult year for so many people. Even though I count myself as extraordinarily lucky, it can still be hard to wake up to yet another natural or manmade disaster and not lose sight of the positive.

But I’ve always loved this season, with its colorful trees glowing under cobalt blue or slate gray skies, frosty-crisp air, wood smoke, and long shadows. I find the cycle of seasons comforting… a progression, not an end.

Walking through familiar neighborhoods or in a beloved city park or the well-tended botanical garden, I found plenty of evidence that the world is both solemn and radiantly beautiful.

 

Share your thoughts, observations, and images of bittersweet autumn in the comments section below!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Stanley Zimny, dustinphillips,Bhanu Tadinada, Thomas Hawk, Tom Bastin, and Thomas Hawk© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]