Winter Colors: The Spirit of Place

2002 - 10 - Noblett Lake - lovely colorBy Sara Firman (Sulis)

In the world of home interiors, natural tones, are often boring neutrals.  Yet the natural world is never boring or neutral.  Even in winter, colors abound. 

One winter, when I lived in a cabin beside an Ozark creek, I decided to enliven my white-walled living space.  I didn’t anticipate that, not only would it end up being an interior I felt more at home in, but that the change would also blur the boundary between my indoor world and the outdoors.

When I scanned the color-wheel for paints, I thought I was selecting on the basis of the ceramic floor tiles, the artwork and fabrics that were already in the space.  I wanted colors that would bring out the less visible, accentuate the least obvious.  Many of the paintings in the room were seascapes and the fabrics and furnishings came from exotic countries – none of it was typical of the rural Ozarks.

The colors I chose had names like Veiled Violet, Heart of Palm, Complimentary Cream, and then a combination of all of these merged on one wall in a textured faux finish (one of my ex-husband’s skills).   Admiring the results, I noticed that these names could be ‘localized’ as Stone Violet, Sycamore Skin, and Switch Grass.  The glass doors overlooking the creek, reflected this subtly changing color palette.

Taking it outside

In the days after the work was finished, as I walked about the land outside, I saw the beautiful violet hue everywhere I looked.  In tree trunks, in river rocks, in sky and water, in little leaves, a sensory pleasure beyond gray was magically available to me.  When I returned indoors, the newly painted walls gave me a joy enhanced by the feeling of bringing the outdoors in.  I picked up and brought home rocks that were vibrant as color-wheels to me.

Ozark river rocks are not only ancient but they are splendid in their varied form, color, and texture.  On a sunny day you can see crystals in their cracks or finely embellishing an entire surface.  I used some of those rocks to create an outdoor rock labyrinth on the front lawn there, so that I could contemplate them as I walked quietly in nature.

In early spring the labyrinth path between the rocks was also a patchwork of color, as the wild things pushed through the grass.  Violet-leaved ajuga, fluorescent green moss, sudden bluet stars, cheerful golden dandelions, curls of old leaves, boat-like vine pods, little mushrooms, whisks of wild garlic, and so on.   By midsummer it was all grass and verdant; when fall came, the leaves decorated it with random panache.

One day I took a walk beside the creek and noticed some more color surprises.  It was February, and suddenly cold, which seemed to have livened the birds up.  In a tangle of shrubs, I heard before I saw, a host of birds: brilliant red cardinal males and their more modestly hued wives.  They reminded me of the red pieces my ex-husband liked to include in his stained glass artwork.  Bright but not strident.

Solomon was with me, an Ozark mutt and perfectly designed colorwise for these hills.  Looking for him in the landscape taught me how to notice more in the woodlands.  His mottled grey-and-white body with a black patch hid Solomon - Winter Colors by Sara Firmanhim well in rocky woodland with light filtering down.  He was noisier than the wild animals though; I had to be especially vigilant to see their shapes against the natural backdrop.

Just as I heard the cardinals before I saw them, I would usually smell one particular winter flower before I saw it: a fruity, sweet scent on the wind that had me searching high and low.  Then, I’d spot the deep cream of the witchhazel flowers with their maroon centers.  The next time I walked there, I’d bring pruners to cut for a vase indoors just a few branches, along with some of  the nearby alder with its matching maroon catkins, and the red globes of beautyberry.

Making an expression

Connecting with nature can be as simple as a short walk like that, returning home with a reminder to treasure – taking care not to remove anything that would do harm. You can tread even more lightly by taking paper and pencil with you to record your experience in an artful way.  A camera might do too, though drawing or writing is a slower and often more engaged process.  I like to write short poems called haiku when I am out walking alone.

A haiku is a 17-syllable poem about the season, for example winter. Arranged in three lines of five, seven and five syllables and balanced on a pause, a haiku underlines beauty in nature. There is something pleasing about its simple discipline – just as three blooms in Japanese Ikebana flower-arrangements often create perfection.  A haiku poem describes objects in their natural state; it does not make them into ideas or subject them to attachment or aversion.

Winter is the best time for walking here in the Ozarks – the paths are clear of growth and insects or snakes – and visibility is good.  You can really see the bones of the landscape – the bluffs and the rocky hills.  And, as I noticed after that painting project, it is hardly a bland vista of neutral tones but rather an incredible palette of subtle colors. In a previous post you’ll find a selection of my own winter haiku  – notice that color and feeling are often important descriptors for these nature subjects.

landscape aesthetic
in swift delineation
the yellow road curves

I find that nature is the finest artist of all – truly demonstrating that there is always beauty in form and function.  One of the best ways to increase our understanding of the natural world, and to stop for just a moment before we contemplate initiating any big changes in the landscape, is to develop our aesthetic appreciation of nature and to seek to emulate it.  I no longer live in that creekside cabin but it remains like a painting in my heart.  Now I am painting in a new landscape, discovering another spirit in place.

About the Author:

Sara FirmanSara Firman (Sulis)  holds a B.Sc. in Genetics from Edinburgh and M.Phil. in Plant Breeding from Cambridge University in London and is a trained LMT Watsu massage therapist and an expert in aquatic therapy and bodywork.  Sara has practiced her art in the finest spas around the world, including her own Aquaest Retreat.  Currently Sara is a spa consultant, speaker, poet and author of several wonderful blogs including Aquaest, Aquapoetics, Diving Deeper and Vision Spa Retreat.  She lives in the heart of the Ozarks.

Reblogged with permission from Diving Deeper
Copyright 2010 Sara Firman (Sulis)

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One response to “Winter Colors: The Spirit of Place

  1. The allure of Spring Creek is appealing to us all.

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