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Flaming Color

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Wednesday, 31 October 2001 [links added]

My friend the flaming maple is back. I never notice this tree during most of the year. It’s big — but up North of the house and beside the garage, where I haven’t done much with the yard yet. In fall, however, it draws the eye powerfully: a brilliant gold, with yellow, orange and red flickering through it. When I see it, I feel like a friend has come to visit, dressed in glory.

Often what draws my notice is a bright light at the end of the upstairs hall, shining out of the guest bedroom. My first reaction is “the light’s on in that room” — but it isn’t; instead the maple is reflecting sunlight into the room, so strongly that it comes pouring out into the hall. This is more sun than that room gets any other time of year.

Recently my husband Ward has been working a lot in his home office, where he has an even better view of this tree. One day he looked up and suddenly realized that his whole field of view was occupied by brilliance; he called me to come look. Ward is normally not that observant of the garden, or of color.

Color and light have strong effects on people, whether or not we realize it. Culture and personality make a difference, but research also shows basic physiological effects, for example yellow alerts the brain, orange slows down the pulse, and red speeds it up. Seasonal Affective Disorder gives perhaps 9% of us greater susceptibility to depression in fall and winter; this often responds to treatment with light. But even if we don’t have severe problems, the turning season’s changing light still affects our activities.

I don’t normally enjoy yellow in the garden, as much as blues and reds. But right now, it comes close. When you’re looking at fall foliage, what color do you enjoy the most? For both Ward and me it’s the reds — but if there weren’t any yellows, the reds wouldn’t be so noticeable. It’s those golden yellows that light up the fall.

As the year moves into growing darkness, the gold feels good to me. When a gust of wind blows leaves down from my flaming friend, I feel some sadness that the gold is passing — but at the same time, the showers of gold shimmering through the air feel like some kind of magic rain, or blessing.

Color Matters has a lot about color.

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© Copyright 2001 Catherine Holmes Clark