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Prairie Notes -The near-winter landscape


Fri, Nov 22nd, 2002
Posted in Columnists

Some seasons get all the breaks. Take spring, for example. Most of us look forward to the budding trees, the greening lawns, and even the yellowing dandelions. Summer, too, holds the promise of pinks and blues and purples in gardens and on bushes galore. In a good year, fall thrills us with orange, red, and gold up and down each bluff. Even winter takes a pretty picture when the distant sun causes icicles to sparkle on bare trees surrounded by a sea of white. But without that snowfall, November looks dismal.

In a vain attempt to create a colorful view this time of year, we force bittersweet and pumpkins to pretend to look natural on our doorsteps or near lamp posts, but we know the truth. November wears drab, and drab just doesnít merit an "ooh" or "aah" the way lavender does. Retailers know this, too. As early as November 1, customers can buy a myriad of holiday lights to deck their halls or windows or trees, but you will not find brown. Gold, definitely; amber, maybe; but brown, never.

But even our attempt to call everything brown is to look too quickly, to make hasty assumptions based on old habits. Weíre tired of mowing the lawn, so we hope for fallís frosts to bring on the on those brilliant colors which mean harvest, then snow, then Christmas and New Yearís and a few months of ice before we see spring again. We get crops in bins, clip the iris leaves, and busy ourselves with last-minute-before-snowfall chores which cancel out any chance for us to linger awhile, looking at the earth in its barest state.

Possibly our lack of vocabulary prevents us from enjoying the view during this moment in the year. When we speak of holly green or apple red, others nod and imagine precisely the same sight. But which words describe this monthís colors? To speak of ditch drab or camouflage gray seems appropriate only in a setting for some dreary story of heartbreak or failure. So where do we find common names for the colors of after-fall.

Look once, and youíll see what I mean. To call the remnants in the ditches "brown" means disregarding the majority of what sways in the wind or lies there. Tawny works, but only a bit. Dappled amid those grasses stand a few true brown twigs, but "bone" or "speckled egg" might describe some of the other plants whose names Iíve never tried to learn. A spot of sunshine here and a shadow there add inflections of copper or gray. Beyond those ditches, patches of plowed dirt mottled with shreds of corn stalks still create a varied pattern, and beyond them the birches stretch thin branches across the bluffs. To call these sights black and tan and white comes nowhere near realizing the beauty that continues to clothe our countryside. Even as I find myself noticing the subtle differences in ditches and on hillsides, I wonder which words to use to persuade others that what I saw was beautiful.

Maybe color crayon companies ought to have a contest to name these shades so we could all recognize the same palette; or maybe decorators need to swing the chic pendulum back to the tones of November to impress us with the hues we see each day. If no one else heeds the call, I may have to spend longer hours scouting these colors and learning their names. I wouldnít mind the project, because although reds and greens of every shade fill my home, I realize that Iím beginning to like this near-winter landscape.

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