Tag Archives: Diane Ackerman

Colours of Winter

One of my most loved pieces of naturalist literature is Diane Ackerman’s book, Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and other ways to Start the Day. Here is an excerpt from the chapter Where it’s Winter – a revelry in colour.

Monet understood the subjective lens through which snow, though rumoured to be white, often appears confetti-colored as it reflects the winter sun. Dig a hole in the snow and a blue shadow appears at the bottom, because on our planet all shadows are blue, sky-tinted, the scheme of winter dawn.

An opalescent sky becomes the stinging blue of mosque tiles or stage scenery. It’s an azure blue, from the ancient word for lapis lazuli, the intense blue mineral flecked with gold that has emblazoned church and palace walls since antiquity. Polished lapis gives soul to a mosaic, including dawn’s chimeras of jumbled outlines, blurred edges, and phantom forms. We bundle up but the trees go naked in winter. I’ve always loved the way sky is captured in their bare limbs. Held by the delicate tracery of twigs, sky resembles light pouring through leaded stained-glass windows. …

Porch lights shine along the street — white, yellow, gold — like distant stars each tinted differently by the gas at its core. As a result shadows streak behind the trees. The magnolia branches are all elbows.

Winter is a blue season, gray-blue at dawn, blue-white in landscapes, and for many people blue in mood. For them it’s not enough that the sun rises each day, if it just trickles copper across the lake instead of trumpeting reds and oranges. The short days don’t fill their reservoirs of light, and anyway most of the animals are scarce and the plants dead. Personally, I love winter, and regard snow as a great big toy that falls from the sky, just as I did as a child. I love how snow becomes a prism in the sun, crinkling with colors, and how ice coating a winter fence creates visual firecrackers. I love that snow is a mineral, falling as billions of temporary stars.

Tree branches against blue sky