Looking at Things
I spend a lot of time looking at things in nature, particularly in the countryside of the Oswestry Hills where I live.
Why I do this is a complex matter. Sometimes it’s simply to record the progress of the seasons; sometimes I want to get the details of a particular plant, tree, bird or wild creature accurate; sometimes I need to just sit and collect data that might, one day, come in handy.
We are fortunate here in having a range of hills and habitats, the hills are not very big but the habitats are diverse and range from ash woods to old meadows, scrubland and worked out quarries awash with ferns and orchids.
We are approaching the end of winter now and the most obvious flowering plants, for the past month, have been the snowdrops. The snowdrop is quite common in these parts and they dot around old churches and in hedgebanks and over-looked corners. One of the best places to see snowdrops is the old motte of the now-disappeared castle at Knockin. Another excellent place is the river bank of the Tanat just below Llanyblodwell.
It’s easy to make the connection between ‘snow’ and ‘snowdrop’, as many writers and poets have done, but that doesn’t take us very far. Looking at the plant itself one notices the down-turned flower head but if you flip it up it shows wonderful green stripes on the inside of the petals. Is this for decoration or is it direction for the few insects that are about during the winter months? The phrase ‘honey-guide’ comes to mind.
And what colour or rather shade of green is it exactly? It starts off a cheerful pea green but fades by March to a sort of washed-out lime. The shade of colour that’s used can tell us about when the poet was observing.
I often comment on the ubiquity of the word ‘green’ or ‘red’, for example, in other writers’ works and get slightly distressed about the fact that there are over fifty shades of red and twenty shades of green that are rarely deployed. See how many you can spot next time you go for a walk in the country or your local park.
Does this precise naming of colours help? I think it does and offer one example from Jeremy Reed, where he notes tulips standing:
in strains of scarlet, mauve, crimson with streaks
of gold, flaming tangerine and dove-white.
From ‘Tulips’, Selected Poems, Penguin, 1987
This extraordinary poem describes the tulips at length, creating worlds of imagination, a critique of the English upper crust and what sustains it, no less.
I don’t think we should be afraid of using colour when it comes to describing the phenomena around us. It makes us work harder to find the exact word. Precise colour enhances the work as it often carries with it histories and memory.
Next time you’re trying to describe something in nature, or in urban settings, try out different colours and see how they work.
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