Monday, March 30, 2015

The map is not the place, nor the name the color

Over the past several weeks, we've taken a look at the 40 named hues of green listed in the Artist's Little Book of Color. For more than 10 percent of them, we couldn't find definitions. For many of them, internet searches yielded an array of images displaying varying hues of the same name. What started as an effort to find a "color dictionary" to better describe My Minnesota's annual greening of the natural world did not turn out at all as expected. As you probably know, green is one of the primary colors used by computers. (The other two are red and blue.) Computers specify colors as hexadecimal triplets [RrGgBb]. That's not helpful when trying to write a poem or an essay that shares the look of pale green aspen leaves after they've burst out each Spring.

poplar (aspen) leaves in May
poplar (aspen) leaves in May
Photo by J. Harrington

I think there may be a simple solution to this confusion and conundrum. I'm going to name leaf colors in an eponymous fashion, so there'll be aspen / poplar green, sugar maple green, red maple green (not to be confused with Red Green), burr oak green, norway pine green -- you get the idea. I might have thought of the hue of aspen leaves as "lime green." I might also be someone who is somewhat color blind or maybe providing a named color to someone who is. So now, instead of trying to compare colors and decide if a leaf is lime green or kelly green or hunter green or..., in the future I'll write something like "the shade of a sugar maple leaf in early May" or "the new sugar maple leaves have their own special shade of green in May"and hope that the reader has seen a sugar maple in May, or if they haven't, that their curiosity will induce them to get off the couch some May and look for and at a the leaves on a sugar maple tree. Maybe they won't care what hue sugar maple leaf green actually is but they will care that I distinguish maple trees from oaks. Using this new approach, I'll have to improve my tree identification skills.

"moss green" if I knew the genus, else just green moss
"moss green" if I knew the genus, else just green moss
Photo by J. Harrington

I  think I had it backwards with the idea that dealing with color would be easier for a writer than a painter. If I'm any example, writers seem to be concerned more with naming a color than creating it. In the real world (as contrasted with in computers) most folks know that green is made of blue and yellow. See how simple all this color stuff is? If any of you want to learn more about green hues, shades, names and symbolism (remember the Green Knight?) Wikipedia has this page on green. Finally, since I learned a lot through this exercise, and since Wikipedia mentions that in some languages "the same word can mean either blue or green," and because one reader hoped I'd be doing the color blue next, in April we'll focus on the list below of names of blue in the Little Book, and on poetry in and about Minnesota, land of sky blue waters. We may even discover that the response to 58,000+/- public comments on the PolyMet SEIS has been released and have something to say about that and or how mining is being looked at in other parts of the world.


D. H. Lawrence, 1885 - 1930 

The dawn was apple-green, 
The sky was green wine held up in the sun, 
The moon was a golden petal between. 
She opened her eyes, and green 
They shone, clear like flowers undone
For the first time, now for the first time seen.

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