The tyranny of green
This isn’t an environmental rant. Or maybe it is. After a week in Los Angeles, surrounded by flowers of eye-popping color, I am home again in upstate New York enveloped by trees, grass, bushes, weeds, all in brilliant green. Green everywhere. The tulips and daffodils are gone. The roses and peonies not yet out. Spirea drapes its whiteness across green lawns, an echo of winter when snow drapes itself across evergreens. Is white a color? I learned in school that it wasn’t. It is an accent, perhaps, to other colors, a background but not much in itself.
In California, color engages or assaults the eye. Blue sky, pale brilliant blue in day, darker and richer in the evening. The browns and grey-greens in the xeriscaped yards and surrounding hills provide an understated background to the flowers. Along the roads, in right-of-ways, wildflowers add yellow and orange. The jacaranda trees were in bloom, pale purple glory arching over the streets and giving canopy to the other flowers: roses in the usual reds, pinks, and white. Other roses in yellow, yellow and orange, corals in various intensities. Jasmine flows everywhere. It was blooming, its scent almost too much to bear on some streets. Lavender and speedwell spike up, giving texture to gardens. And then there are the hibiscus, again the usual colors but also a deep creamy yellow so lovely you could taste its yellowness.
Flowers enchant any landscape. And I love the colors, but the real beauty of the hills and landscape are the colors I have no name for. Greys and greens that are neither. Browns, tans, ochers both more and less than those words imply. They force the eye to work; it can see millions of colors. The brain registers them. Language unfortunately has not kept pace. The colors tease at the eye; the brain searches for the right words. Greynish doesn’t do it. Is that more grey than green? What about the greens that are also grey? I think there are numbers for them, but how romantic is that? They need dry names, in keeping with their desert home. Something spare and whispering. It’s the desert landscape, the mix of beauty and danger. The desert is beautiful, and much more lethal than where I live, despite the hard winters. Yet its beauty moves me almost to tears. Or beyond them. My soul wants clarity, spareness that untangles the messes of life and gives pure answers. Both arctic and desert landscapes call to that longing. Both are deadly as life. Softer climates, where there is water and perhaps easily available food, crowd the eye and soul, deceive perhaps, that there is no danger. There is, of course, but the landscape cheats the eye and heart. One thinks, I can live here, I can relax, perhaps Eden was like this. IF Adam and Eve had been created in the desert, or even in drylands, that serpent would never have got so far. We who live in green persuade ourselves that beauty is safe, is meant for us, is believable.
All those flowers in California are cultivated to defend against the desert. As with so much else in Los Angeles, they provide a set, a scene to inhabit. But here, where I live in the east, I am enfolded by green. My half-joking fear of being strangled by vines that creep in my windows is only that. Half a joke. Grass, vines, shrubs, trees will take me back in the end, quickly, never leaving a bone exposed.