Sunday, October 05, 2014


Weather: The weather service says the rain this past Monday was the last of the monsoon season, probably because we’ve passed the equinox and the sun’s heating patterns on the oceans are changing; cold yesterday morning; last rain 9/29.

What’s blooming in the area: Silver lace vine, datura, morning glories, bouncing Bess, sweet pea, Russian sage, red amaranth, zinnias from new seeds and reseeds, African marigolds from seed, Maximilian sunflowers, pampas grass. Virginia creeper leaves turning burgundy.

Beyond the walls and fences: Pink and white bindweed, goat’s head, stickleaf, Queen Anne’s lace, chamisa, snakeweed broom, broom senecio, áñil del muerto, golden hairy, heath and purple asters.

In my yard, looking east: Large-flowered soapwort, hollyhocks, winecup mallow.

Looking south: Betty Prior and floribunda roses.

Looking west: Catmint, calamintha, David phlox.

Looking north: Yellow potentilla, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, chocolate flower, blanket flower, anthemis, coreopsis, chrysanthemum.

In the open, along the drive: Buddleia, white yarrow.

Bedding plants: Blue salvia, French marigold.

Seeds: Reseeded Sensation cosmos from last year’s plants, yellow cosmos.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, geckos, small birds, grasshoppers, large and small black ants.

I’ve had more problems with rodent droppings this year than normal; they didn’t go away in the spring like they usually do. When I went into the local hardware store, the shelves were picked over. The clerk said Thursday they had had to reorder stock several times this year.

Weekly update: Chemists tell us absolute colors exist. They are functions of light reflected by atoms and molecules. Arsenic is green, gold is red, cadmium is yellow, cobalt is blue. Copper oxide is bluish-green, iron oxide is brownish-red.

We can see many gradations in rainbows, but there are ultraviolets and infrareds we cannot see. White is pure light, black the absence of light. Gray and brown somehow don’t appear in this schema.

Botanists specify the molecules that cause color in plants are pigments. Green and yellow are the most common with one coming from chlorophyll, the other from xanthophyll or a carotene. Anthocyanins may be red or blue, depending on the pH, but betalains, like those found in amaranths, always are red.

As a child, I was taught a different classification for colors, one based on the empirical work of painters. There were three primary colors, red, yellow and blue. The secondary colors (orange, green, purple) were derived by mixing the primary colors with the one nearest to them in the color wheel. If you mixed colors that weren’t neighbors, you got something murky. Thus, red and yellow made orange, but red and green made something ugly.

The artists palette was reinforced by our tools - the eight crayons and eight watercolors we were given in school.

At the same time we were exposed to the variety of colors, we were warned bright ones were low class. I remember a junior high art class exercise where we systematically added white or black to each of the six colors in the water color box to create more tasteful, subdued shades.

So far as I remember, we never were encouraged to mix red and orange to get variations. That was something we did on our own, either in the rinse water glass or in the paint box lid.

The worlds of color I was taught no longer exists. Computers and digital cameras work with three colors: blue, green and red. The scientific rationale lies in biology. These correspond to the three color receptors in the human eye. In our more narcissistic age, color is a function of what we see, not what is.

There is no yellow, brown or gray in the RGB charts. Attempts to create them are, in IBM’s famous words to programmers, highly unpredictable. A color that works on one screen doesn’t work on another. Colors are reproduced differently by printers that translate the RGB back to magenta, cyan and yellow.

I mention the worlds of color I’ve been taught to note none corresponds to the views of colors of native Americans living in this part of the world. However, their palette, like mine, is rooted in both theory and experience.

Mayans valued four colors they associated with cardinal directions. The red of the east was most important. South was yellow for the sun, west black for the disappearing sun. The north of cool rains was white, and blue the center. They were embedded in their astronomical observations and calendar.

The Aztec valued four colors. They were the same ones, but the directions were different. Red was still east, but blue was south, white west and black north. They were controlled by four gods. Red was associated with spring and the god of germination, Xipe Totec. Blue was Huitzilopochtli, the god for whom amaranth figures were made. White was the best known Quetzalcoatl of fall. Black represented the north of death and the spirits, the winter world of Tezcatlipoca.

Hopi directions were aligned with the solstices. Red was the winter sunrise, blue the sunset. White corresponded to the sunrise on the summer solstice and yellow with sunset. Black represented the world above, all the colors spotted together the world of germination below. They used the same word for dark green and blue, merged red and violet, and didn’t recognize orange as separate from red or yellow.

Most pueblo communities recognize associations between color and direction. However, many use the cardinal directions of western Europeans. What they recognized originally is unknown. Even the Hopi have altered their colors to fit the familiar compass, probably because it is easier to say south in English than southeast.

Within the shared pueblo culture, Tewa speakers used yellow for west and blue or green for south, according to Watson Smith. Zuñi reversed the colors for the zenith and nadir. They also had more words to differentiate pale blue, gray, turquoise, light green and dark blue.

One might think, oh those color choices are obvious, they’re the primary ones. What’s important is the discrepancy between what’s used and what’s available. Red and blue are rarely seen in nature, while pinks and lavenders are common but ignored. Yellow is common in this region and used, but green and brown are not.

Hopi connect the yellow Mariposa lily (Calochortus aureus) with the northwest and a white evening primrose (Oenothera pinnatifida) with the northeast. The southwest is the blue tall mountain larkspur (Delphinium scaposum), the southeast the red painted cup (Castilleja linariaefolia).

There is no correlation between rarity or commonness and values. Red and blue are esteemed despite the difficulties in producing them, but so are yellow, white and black. Cultural inheritance overrides practicality.

Smith, Watson. Kiva Mural Decorations at Awatovi and Kawaika-a, 1952.

Whiting, Alfred F. Ethnobotany of the Hopi, 1939.

1. Local red wildflower, Indian paint brush in far arroyo, 3 September 2011. This is a close relative to the Hopi painted cup.

2. Cultivated red Maltese cross in my garden, 20 June 2010.

3. Local yellow wildflowers common this time of year, broom senecio (front) and chamisa in far arroyo, 4 October 2009. Senecio grows in northeastern Arizona, chamisa does not.

4. Cultivated wildflowers in my garden, 8 June 2012. Lance-leaf coreopsis (darker) and golden spur columbine are selected versions of wildflowers from other parts of this country.

5. Local white wildflower, tufted evening primrose in my driveway, 25 April 2014. This is a close relative to the Hopi one.

6. Cultivated David garden phlox by my garage, 13 August 2011.

7. Local blue wildflower, blue gilia, on the rim of the far arroyo, 22 May 2011. It doesn’t grow in western New Mexico or Arizona.

8. Cultivated blue larkspur near my drive, 13 July 2013. This is a garden cousin of the Hopi one.

9. Local green wildflower, four winged saltbush, in my yard, 10 September 2007. This grows in the Hopi area.

10. Local lavender wildflower, purple aster in my drive, 3 October 2014. This grows in the Hopi area of northeastern Arizona.

1 comment:

Vicki said...

Beautiful colors.