Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rain Colors

What a difference one day makes.
The last couple of posts recounted our Indian Summer,
but yesterday gave us an unwelcome preview of winter,
with its gray, sullen skies, soaking rain, and sharp wind.

photo courtesy of

 I found myself out in that rainy mess after dark at rush hour.
Rush hour, when millions of people converge on city streets 
with one thought in mind:
to get away from where they are, so they can get to where they are not.
And they want to do it quickly. 
And they are hungry.

So there I was, sitting in my car in traffic, watching the rain bead up 
and then run in chilly streams down my windshield.
And perhaps because it was dark, and windy, and rainy, and crowded,
I found myself looking at lights shining through the darkness, 
illuminating the wet pavement.
An endless stream of oncoming headlights  
reminded me of a string of diamonds. 
Going my direction and up over the overpass, 
the tail lights glittered like strands of rubies.
I passed a church that had bright blue lights on either side of the front door.
An unusual choice, but I liked the originality of it.
There is something comforting about blue lights in the rain.

And of course, all that looking at color, got me thinking about color.
It is interesting to me that English did not always have color terms
as we know them today. 
Many of the terms that we recognize had different names
and referred primarily to brightness, not hue.

Having only a handful of brightness terms at one's disposal 
would make it difficult to communicate all the color the eye can see.
In the autumn, we delight in all kinds of rich, saturated colors
and we can describe them with hundreds of  terms: 
red, ruddy, russet, and rosy.
Or scarlet, carmine, vermilion, crimson, cinnabar.
The same can be said for yellow or orange, blue or green.

So tomorrow, join me as we go back in time 
to the days of the Anglo-Saxons,
and we'll visit our color terms at their earliest.
It will be a very bright--and eventually colorful--experience. 

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