When I am lacking color in my life or need inspiration for color palettes, I look to nature, because the best color palettes appear in nature.
I used to commute between El Cerrito/Berkeley and San Jose for 7 years, which is a 50 mile drive each way. I had the freeway exits on 880 memorized. I remember listening to Tony Robbins CDs out of utter boredom and thinking the guy made some sense–but then quitting when it went to deck 2 and he wanted the listener to do activities while listening, activities impossible while driving. It was just as well; he was getting a bit kooky by then.
But beyond the freeway, especially during the winter, I saw salvation: the salt flats at the eastern end of the Dumbarton Bridge, swatches of white salt against brick clay soil, and later, the backdrop to suburban Fremont, dark grey-purple skies and lush green hills, a palette to transcend any traffic-laden slog home. It was a color palette that inspired a quilt that I made for my then-best-friend. The last time I saw her, the quilt was hanging in her living room.
I remember summertime of my youth, watching the sun go down on a hot Valley day, the cacophony of wild parrots and seeing a bowl of milk set out for the dog, a circle so white against the dark green mid-summer grass at dusk.
Like a full moon; an orb against dark. The doorway to the next dimension, I thought, from the depression of my youth. I thought of escape, I thought of a light that I could look into without pain, I thought of the waning moon and doors closing, like a slow wink.
Even the absence of color, a world of white and black…well that is beautiful. That is art deco. That is modern. Together, black and white make a color palette.
I count white hairs upon my head, hiding in the midst of my black hair. I can still count them, though there are enough white hairs now that I don’t bother to finish. There are more than fifteen. Definitely fewer than thirty five. My hair is the beginning of winter, when snow falls and it does not stick.
Why don’t you pluck the white hairs? asks my mother. Because I’m proud of them. And I fear going bald. I need my hair. Every morning, I shed handfuls of hair. When I was a child, I had trouble getting the hair tie around my hair twice. Now, I can wrap the band around my hair at least four times.
My grandmother had four white hairs at the time of her death, having never dyed her hair. She was ninety-five. My aunts on my mother’s side don’t dye their hair, and they have fewer white hairs than I do.
The first white hair I ever sprouted was not wholly white; it turned white halfway through its lifespan, during an especially stressful year that caused my OCD to spike such that I wore latex gloves to use shared keyboards. My blood pressure also spiked, too. It was the year I decided to quit my job and pursue an MFA in writing.
Once, when I used to be very religious and my religion was Christianity, a junior pastor asked us who our heroes were in Sunday school. People offered up numerous candidates like General MacArthur and Moms and Dads and of course, Jesus Christ. It was a Korean church; I don’t know if that makes much difference, but it does explain the General MacArthur choice.
I said, “Hillary Clinton.”
He scowled and said, “That’s a funny choice.” I seriously thought General MacArthur was the funny choice.
The next week, he asked us for our favorite colors. I offered up blue. He responded, “Black.”
I responded, “That’s a funny choice.” He scowled again.
After my emergency tonsillectomy in high school, while in the hospital, I threw up quarts of blood I’d swallowed during surgery. In the haze of pain and drugs, I wondered why my blood was black. It looked like I was puking up crude oil. It felt like I was puking up crude oil, too; my throat burned as if it were being shredded apart.
I think of Spring, after winter, the first lavenders and greens and pinks breaking into the winter landscape, the colors so clear and bright against muted gray. I remember walking through St. James’s Park in London, reveling at the crocus flowers.
There are few things fresher than spring green.
I am a woman who doesn’t much like pink, even if I was perhaps fond of the color as a child. I don’t wear pink, because it brings out my rosacea, which makes my face look like a pink balloon.
I did paint the walls of my writing room pink; I heard once that sanitariums are colored pink, because the color is soothing. A boss and old friend once painted her office pink; her job was affiliated with HR, and so many people would cry in her office that she decided to color her walls a therapeutic color.
In the evenings, she would cry to me. I wondered why it was she was crying over the need for a child. I was twenty-two, and she was thirty-five. Who needed a baby?
Now, I have a pink room, too.
When I was growing up, pink and gray was a popular color combo. We would braid lanyards with pink and gray plastic ribbons, and then gift them to each other.
The other popular choice was pink and blue.
Also popular in the 1980s was neon, a color shade I found unnatural. But that too, comes from nature. Pink and purple and orange sunset sky. This is the birth of neon.
I was a chubby child with a mom very conscious of my weight, and so I didn’t wear much of 1980s child fashion. The front-ruffle shirt was off limits, because it wasn’t flattering. I wasn’t allowed to wear knickers, those short corduroy pants that buttoned at the knee, like Ben Franklin. I guess they didn’t do much for overweight Ben Franklin, either.
Even though I didn’t have much leeway with cut and fit, I got to experiment with color. I wore neon. I wore neon green sweaters and neon pink shoes and neon yellow blouses. There was no way a car could hit me.
I should have been wearing neon this past June.
In June, I was wearing dark green cargo pants, a red patterned blouse, and a dark purple North Face parka when an SUV hit me in the crosswalk. Really. The outfit wasn’t as hideous as it sounds. Think of a dark green shaded forest with lush red flowers.
Last year, a robin built a nest in the magnolia tree below our dining room window. The nest was within arm’s reach, and each day, I would run to the window and witness the addition of another egg. The blue of the robin’s eggs was unreal. I fell in love with that blue, a blue that was more Tiffany than Tiffany blue. I wanted a dress in that color, I wanted walls painted that color.
We went away for a weekend, and came back to an empty nest. A squirrel must have raided the nest. For days afterward, I found bits of robin’s eggshell in the garden, littered like confetti.
There’s a reason Martha Stewart bases paint colors off of hen eggs. Each week, I go to the farmer’s market and I buy eggs direct from the farmers, making sure the carton contains at least one blue Araucana hen egg. Who needs to dye eggs when they’re this color already?
And it’s not just the blue eggs, but the entire palette of various cocoa and tan and mushroom and white and blue colors, lumped together. It’s hard to break eggs like that.
But when you break them, out comes the yellowest yolk, in some cases nearly orange.
I am awaiting the aspens to turn yellow. Every year, I look forward to yellow aspens, and make journey to the Sierras to view them. They turn me speechless.
They say that yellow is the color of insanity. But this yellow does not make me feel crazy, it makes me feel alive and intense and joyful. Maybe that’s insanity.
When the aspens turn yellow, the salmon spawn in the Sierras. Kokanee salmon, when spawning, turn a very very bright red. They swim upstream and gather in shallow pools, laying their eggs before they die. Around them, ducks swim, and then “paddle-in-place,” unearthing eggs to eat.
On the banks of the creek are dead salmon that have laid their eggs and having fulfilled their mission, die. I wonder if that death is painful, or if it is like dying in one’s sleep. When they die, the salmon’s color fades, the red swimming out of them. The dead salmon are a silvery gray.
I hear their flesh is not as tasty during the time of spawn.
But the black bears don’t mind. They feast upon the spawning red kokanee salmon.
When the bears tear into the salmon, you can see the bright red flesh from yards away.
Black bears can be blonde and brown. In the Sierras, very few black bears are actually black.
My wiener dogs, when young, were dark red. They are turning white in their old age. Like the dead salmon. Like my head.