Complementary Colors

Another day in paradise, high country paradise. Clear blue sky morning, with brisk temperatures requiring a light fleece for the start of the wake up hike. It is August at 9,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies.

It has been an unusually wet summer here. The wildflowers that are normally played out by now from heat and dryness are still showing their stuff. The aspen are thick with clumps of minty viridian leaves. These colonies never cease to impress me. Their flat, fat, teardrop shaped leaves gather in clusters that quiver and flash with the slightest breath of a breeze. The families of pale barked trunks are amazing to contemplate. Old mature giants are joined to clusters of gangly adolescents and their bushy sibling babes then linked to the young adult and middle aged trees. Visualizing this single organism (the largest creature on the planet) with its intertwined roots tangles my own imagination.

When the sun is low, rising in the east or slipping down among the peaks to the west the quality of light is breathtaking. The steep luminous rays shine a halo on each crooked branch or twig and on the multitude of meadow grass. The tiniest leaves are radiant. This shining time does not last in clock time, but thankfully lodges in visual memory. A gift for later.

This fresh landscape fed by unusual rain in the West made the return to Tennessee even more jarring than in most years. I had learned many summers before that my Colorado breeding crippled my psyche; unable to endure the average sultry Southern summer. My friends, daughters of generations of steel magnolias, are amazing this time of year. But I fail to glisten with poise like they do. Instead I fall into a sweaty bug bitten spiral, spitting uncharitable diatribes sprinkled with colorful profanities. I babble, accusing the land itself of harboring endless plagues. My truth is this: I must leave for Colorado in August or become the personification of the weather itself: hot and nasty.

I know this about myself; I cannot worship air-conditioning as my native Tennesseans. I cannot abide by the idea that you spend as little time outside during the summer as possible. If one does choose to venture to the out of doors, survival hinges on a) locating near a fan or b) having been dipped in “deep woods” Deet.

This year however, a new twist was added to the summertime blues down South. While the West received generous, consistent wet conditions, the steamy south was dry, bone dry. Seven weeks of no rain; unheard of in anyone’s memory. And to “chap my buttered buns”, the humidity and bug population remained unaffected. Go figure. Even more irritating, the weeds have flourished. Happy lush, thriving vines and crab grass housed any displaced mosquitoes, chiggers and their lovely friends and relatives.

Our yard is a desert. We have given up. Knocking down the vigorous weeds takes less than 10 minutes on our 3 acre spread. Some of our less astute neighbors were convinced by their near starving landscape folks to let them continue to have a go at mowing the brown weedy yards. The results have been pretty entertaining, in a sick sort of way. The billowing clouds of dust overtaking the mowers as the men on their machines zip back and forth conjures images of dust bowls or Beijing. Pathetic really.

The entire yard has become an E.R. for the flora and fauna. We set up a “tree-age” making decisions about which bushes and trees are sprinkled; knowing not all could be saved. Only the most vulnerable or expensive specimen will receive a drink. For many it is simple hospice care, making a feeble attempt to keep many plants merely comfortable during their final season.

Rain finally arrived in September, frugal and unreliably. A few brave trees are actually blooming either out of hopefulness or confusion. It’s hard to know. Fortunately I received a brief reprieve and returned West to enjoy the lush riot of fall in the Rockies, a gift of the glorious summer of 2007. The Elk Wilderness around Crested Butte restored my faith in the benevolence of Mother Earth. It has been a season of irony.

I live and paint in the confusion of all the complementary colors, be it where I live, the weather, the people I know and meet or the painterly shapes that appear on my canvases. It is the paradox itself that draws me in. I want to examine and attempt to capture the relatedness. Muggy hot is hotter after one has felt the cool relief of the clean mountain air. The greenness of Tennessee which normally dulls my artist’s senses is not so suffocating when one lives the alternative of a drought year.

And the light. I am always seeking the light, in all things. The object of desire is not nearly as interesting, dramatic or dazzling unless the cast shadow is also present. There is no richness in anything or anyone without the otherness. Without the light the world is flat, washed out or dark. I keep mixing and laying down the paint and wonder. It has a truth in it somewhere.


“Fresh Air Painting on the Mountain”

July 08 - July 12, 2024
Monteagle, Tennessee

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