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The Shades of Green in the Green Shade.

Set and Setting

“I am the Guardian of the Gates of the Emerald City. May I inquire who you are, and what is your business?” — Oz

When the winter is long and the sun declines to shine I find my mind begins to glide on green. It’s then that the unquiet ghost of Andrew Marvel appears

“Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade,”

and I attend to the world that is rather than the world as I would wish it. There’s comfort in the “world dimensional” — cold though it may be, green as it has become. The comfort comes from attending, from paying attention to the shades of green in the green shade.

If you attend you can catch the quick blue crocus jumping over the damp moss tendrils — bright cups of cerulean with slashes of yellow and orange in the center — bursting in a day and flash-frozen and slumped to a sigh in one night. Slumped against the earth’s daubed quilt of green which in a motley of hues endures.

Here high on this hill above Seattle, the blocks below form an island of Ireland where green is the keynote color of this time in this place. What lawn I have that is still unconquered by armies of weed is a symphony of greens painted by the tireless fingers of grass, lichen, mold and moss, punctuated by a single errant crocus with a tip of vermillion gleaming at the top of its jade tower at the edge of the walk where no hand planted it. Out on the everdamp peninsula of my postage stamp backyard the slab of aggregate and concrete has taken on an ebony green sheen from an algae bloom on its misted surface. All the flower pots and buckets brim with water waiting for the lotus and the lily pads.

Strolling the sidewalks one sees that this or that car, left too long parked, sports on paint and trim, on safety glass, a dusting of moss. Looking up you see that the roofs of the houses display mainly moss in small gardens on cedar or asphalt shingles. Where their walls touch concrete slabs clots of moss cluster ringed with miniature moats. Behind the moats they seem to make their own soil through some strange alchemy of rain and air and rise in small hillocks higher by the day.

It is early in the year but late in the long winter of 2013/14 and the Great Northwest is the Empire of Ice Green. It is that storied Great Green Room, sans telephone, sans red balloon, lacking comb and brush and mush, where Someone unseen is whispering, “Hush.”

Of green, the color out of space.

“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.”
— Frost

If not for the tyranny of the color wheel green would be “primary” color. There is nothing “secondary” about green. Green seen holds good and ill, death and life, upon one tether. Green is growth in stalks, shelter in boughs, splendor in the grass. Seen around the gills green is the sign of sickness, the promise of decay and death. In the realm of the mammal, green bodes ill. In the realm of the vegetable, green foreshadows or announces the edible. In the realm of the mineral, green gleams show the emerald, glows from the jade, and as the patina on copper’s conductivity delivers transmitted, transmutable energy with the sting and the speed of light from sun to socket.

Green. Secondary on the wheel of color, primary within the world. Green. The sheen between seed and grain, between the sowing and the harvest, the premise of bread, where waves of green turn amber and from that fruit we form the holy wafer that once blessed becomes the flesh of God — “This is My body.”

And in the ages before, in the time after Eden — previous, previous — when the ice sheets receded and the green man stirred, and decked in boughs walked the paths in Druid echoes, uprooted and ambulatory along the spine of life, of years, the ancient of days when trees and flowers spoke in glades

Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
like a buttercup
upon its branching stem-
save that it’s green and wooden-
I come, my sweet,
to sing to you.


Of green. Protean, fecund, Leviathan of colors.

“… in a green shade.” Say, rather, shades — when through enough green leaf the light is rendered as light, light green when seen in shadow on the skin — for in its sliver of the spectrum the shades of green proliferate beyond the eye’s ability to discern them. There are the greens seen in the light, the light greens. There are the greens seen in darkness, the dark greens. Between? The greens of yellow, black and blue; the greens of the haunted groves, the swollen rivers, the swaths of green seen in the wine-dark sea. The greens on which our games are played. The greens we grind to gray salted dust in our wars. The greens of lovers’ glades.

Green is shy of no colors except the red. In the heat of red times, in the halls of the red death, we seek the cool greens. In the midst of the vast blue, hovering above the deep, we maintain lookouts to call out the first hints of green on the far horizon. Green is either the bass note of our lives in the verdant forested spaces of the Earth, or the high cry sounded when seeing the longed-for oases that accent our deserts, inner or outer, of sand, dust, desolation, ocean. Even faring far forward, voyaging beyond now, when we’ve gone out from this home at one AU from our star and scanned the stars with eyes of beasts our bodies space-bound will yearn to return; to recline on the slopes of green:

We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth.
Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies
And the cool green hills of Earth.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Casey Klahn March 1, 2019, 9:12 AM

    Lovely post. A post of longing, like a song. ‘fI were to write now of color in nature it’d be about white. There’s the rub: a non-color for you.

    Since the print, the photo and the computer took hold, the dominant paradigm of color is “additive”. Before that ruled what now is only legacy, and inveighed as the “subtractive”. The hell you say? Pigments, the loins of the Earth, are subtractive? The light on my CRT is additive? Nay says I. Green is only verdant because it is subsumed by the power colors. When green becomes primary, the brain begins its decay.

    How many angels will fit on the head of a needle? It beats me, but only the weak ones will be wearing green. For my part, I choose blue. Blue is the god-color, the radiant leader.

    All of this being said, I only react because of the strength of the writing. I could read it all day. Please carry on.

  • ghostsniper March 1, 2019, 11:35 AM

    In June of 2002 I walked into Flex-Bon and told the dood I wanted to buy 120 gallons of plain white satin paint. He asked me what shade of white. Huh? He then set about educating me on the finer aspects of house paint colors and that there are more than 40 shades of white.

    They mix the colors in house on the spot. As he was pressing buttons and the liquid pigments were installed in a long glass tube I saw that blue was in the mix and I asked about it. He said blue is a way to trick the eye and take the edge off the stark whiteness. I asked if it was necessary and he said I would not like the white without it. He said I might not notice it’s absence at first but after awhile it would effect my mood.

    Then I remembered something.

    Almost exactly 30 years prior, in June of 1972, my dad was getting ready to paint our brand new crib he built in Iona, Florida, and while he did use Flex Bon paints he purchased the pigments and mixed them himself. One of the pigments was blue and he put just 3 drops in each gallon he mixed. He told me it dulls the white just enough to make it compatible.

    A few years ago while researching home made laundry soap I came across a product called “bluing” and I looked it up. Bluing is a liquid blue pigment that is used in the rinse cycle that causes whites to appear even whiter, by making them less white. Huh? I still don’t understand the process but I have looked at samples and have to admit it seems to be true. Some how.

    Oh yeah, the particular hue that I was looking for that day at Flex-Bon was officially called “white white”, as opposed to say, arctic white, and it was what I painted the entire exterior and interior of our brand new house with.

  • PA Cat March 1, 2019, 11:46 AM

    Here we are, only 16 days from the commemoration of green’s patron saint (it may be the only color that has one), when everything from beer to bagels is tinted green for the day– and Mr. V. fails to genuflect in the general direction of St. Patrick. He may find a leprechaun taking over his keyboard on the 17th.

    Being stuck in New England, I associate green with “town green” or “village green,” i.e., a bit of common land in the center of the town that was often used for recreation. Memories of one of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence from high school English class, namely “The Ecchoing Green” [Blake’s spelling]:
    The sun does arise,
    And make happy the skies.
    The merry bells ring
    To welcome the Spring.
    The sky-lark and thrush,
    The birds of the bush,
    Sing louder around,
    To the bells cheerful sound.
    While our sports shall be seen
    On the Ecchoing Green.

    Old John, with white hair,
    Does laugh away care,
    Sitting under the oak,
    Among the old folk,
    They laugh at our play,
    And soon they all say.
    “Such, such were the joys,
    When we all, –girls and boys–,
    In our youth-time were seen,
    On the Ecchoing Green.”

    Till the little ones weary
    No more can be merry:
    The sun does descend,
    And our sports have an end.
    Round the laps of their mothers
    Many sisters and brothers,
    Like birds in their nest,
    Are ready for rest;
    And sport no more seen
    On the darkening Green.

    Blake’s wording reminded me how many human sports are played on green grass: golf, football, soccer, cricket– and is there any green that awakens the spirit of playfulness more than the green of a freshly mowed baseball diamond?

    Anyway, thank you for the essay and the opportunity for some reminiscence.

  • downeasthillbilly March 1, 2019, 3:34 PM

    We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field!
    He’s rounding third and headed for home . . .

  • Larry Geiger March 2, 2019, 7:02 AM

    The palmettos are always green. Always. Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. They know nothing of brown until a frond dies. Then it turns a nice shade of light brown (tan?), dips low, though it doesn’t detach, and becomes a frame against which the green fronds stand out. They are called “saw” palmettos for a reason. Thick, heavy, leather gloves are recommended when pruning.
    The pines are always green. The new green needles are full and long before the old brown ones drop.
    The live oaks are always green. The previous year’s leaves turn brown and fall just as the new spring leaves appear. The trees go from a deep green to a lighter green in the early spring.
    The ligustrum is always green. Big leaf ligustrum is green like many trees but the dark green ligustrum is greener than most plants. Shiny and bright like the holly. Which is also always green. The holly seldom sheds a leaf. The leaves stay bright green for many seasons.
    I look out my window across a sea of green fronds framed by the brown trunks and then the green crowns. I can’t imagine it in white. There is nothing but green, brown and blue sky. Almost everyday. I’m happy here.

  • DAN March 2, 2019, 7:11 AM

    YEP a bottle of mrs.smiths blueing sitting on the shelf above the washing machine in both grandmas houses. cobalt blue bottles if i remember rightly.

  • AesopFan March 3, 2019, 1:02 AM

    “There is nothing “secondary” about green. ”
    It ain’t easy bein’ green.

  • Nobody Atall March 3, 2019, 11:53 AM

    I purchased my final resting place a few months ago. The main criteria were (1) not directly next to the road and (2) in a place that would be plenty green in season. I found a spot that’s on a grassy slope, near a shrubbery garden and with a few small trees within shade-casting distance. I plan to request that crocus and daffodils be planted so I can push them up every Spring.

  • Montefrío March 4, 2019, 5:42 AM

    The Marvell verse brought back a memory of a marvelous short story that cites the same verse as its epigraph: “Green Thoughts” by the late John Collier, a writer now largely forgotten. I have his collected work in a 1972 volume and will re-read that story today. I’ll re-read the Marvell poem (“Thoughts in a Garden”)as well; that one’s in a volume I inherited from my mother (r.i.p.), Palgreave´s Golden Treasury.

    Thanks for the memory!