I believe in such cartography – to be marked by nature, not just label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. ... All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps.
Last winter holiday I overheard two people in a restaurant bemoaning the lack of color in our frozen high alpine landscape. And it gave me an idea. I decided to keep a daily color journal to document the landscape palette day to day, season to season. Snow isn't just a hard white after all – there are blues, grays, a spot of blood from a hawk kill or churned up earth from a burrowing animal. There is so much color –the rocks on my dog walk, the anchor ice on a bluebird day, the lichen on the gambel oak, the deep purple-reddish bark of a chokecherry bush or the brightly-colored feathers on the birds congregating at my birdfeeder. I have never participated in a daily creative challenge before, and now I get why they are so popular. The pause, the attention to detail and the invitation to be reverent are compelling, to say the least.
When I was younger I kept daily journals –most now rather painful to read. But sometimes I find insight tucked in between self-absorbed ramblings and am reminded how the most banal observation can lead to revelation. I feel that way about this daily color exploration. As the year rolls on, certain colors dominate and others recede. Cooler colors dominated in March, but in April, more yellow crept into the palette, a warmer sun, a new sulfur green leaf, and a pea green bud. May’s spring bulbs and emerging tiny wildflowers brought a welcome wash of yellow and rosy carmine. I missed certain colors during our long winter—that yellow that feels like a jolt of electricity or the greens that make you feel younger.
I also didn’t anticipate that each study would be a plot point on a unique map of my landscape, not only of my native Colorado, but also of other locations along the way. I love maps, especially ones with a flourish, or a different set of keys, or unique structure or little monsters tucked in a wave or mountain. So I love that this is another kind of map, another register of a world I take for granted too much of the time.
Why does this process matter? It grounds and energizes me. Every element of the landscape breathes and moves despite my own distractions, concerns, or the demands of our daily routine. It pays to look up and out. All the noise that surrounds our daily life keeps us from feeling part of belonging to a bigger ecosystem. When I was a kid I used to love to capture the flag and felt the triumph when I latched onto home base and into safety. This practice of journaling the daily colors I observe is doing the same thing — giving me that adrenaline boost of arriving home.
The act of looking, then, becomes a creative process, and the viewer becomes the artist.