Friday, March 4, 2016

Visions of Color In The Desert

Sunrise in Palm Springs, CA

My real first memories of my surroundings growing up were those in Oregon. We lived in Portland but had frequent trips to the coast through green valleys and hills covered with evergreens. It was, in retrospect rather boring. Lots of green and since it rains about 60" or so a year, grey. I can remember the lights being on when I left for school in the winter and them being on around 3 pm when I returned home. Grey, green, rain and gloom! The flashes of color, the roses, the rhododendrons and azaleas and peonies provided a slash of color against the omnipresent greens.

The first time I saw what I guess you would call a desert was on a trip to Grand Coulee Dam in eastern Washington. After miles of the Columbia River with green hills nearly tumbling into the  river, it was a shock reaching the high plain where the dam was located. I mean there wasn't a green thing in sight during the summer. Miles and miles of dusty brown and weird trees and bushes as far as the eye could see. It was a shock. Looking at the dam rising up to nearly impossible heights in this dun colored scene was shocking. Below, an emerald green ribbon of water cut through the desert heading to the parts I knew, not this desperate, deserted scene.

It was hot, cars didn't have A/C like we do today and all my sister and I could think of was get out of there. You have to understand that to western Oregonians any temperature over about 80ยบ was a heat wave! My mother used to make us play in the basement that was always cool!

When I was in college my mother, recently widowed, decided to move to Albuquerque, NM. She got tired of the rain and indeed the previous summer it rained just about every day. I know, I was trying to paint a house and had more down days than painting days.

New Mexico was a revelation not only because of its ancient culture but because of its landscape. For the first time I got to study the hills and valleys. After a morning Sociology Class we would head out to explore. When summer school was out we even explored more. Santa Fe, Taos, Farmington, Las Vegas, Roswell to look for aliens, Los Alamos with it secret labs, Bandelier National Monument, White Sands, Carlsbad with its caves and Las Cruces. It was like discovering the world again. Rather than brown or tan, the world took on colors that played with your eyes. At sunrise or sunset colors became pinks and deep rose, the shadows were purple just like the in Early Sunset magazine covers. The Sandia Mountains behind Albuquerque would turn a vibrant pink with luminous purple shadows almost defying every art technique we had been taught.

The biggest surprise was how the desert turned to color, literally overnight from the summer monsoons. Suddenly the flowers bloomed leaving you stunned. What is this you ask? How can such a drought stricken place have this much color. Yet, dry for months at a time or from an overnight rain, there are colors there; certainly not the ones we have been trained to use or even think of but just as beautiful and amazing as anything else we will ever see.

I can remember my first trip to the hills west of Lancaster, CA to see the wild poppies. Not
only were there poppies, there was a whole collection of wildflowers vying for your attention. It was amazing. When I moved there in November of 1970 there was no preserve and only a few came. Now its a stampede and the joy of those early days are just about wiped out. However, faithfully, rain or shine, they reappear each year delighting audiences that travel from far and wide to see them. I ask you, does that look dull? Have you ever seen anything like it unless you've been there?

Moving to Pallm Springs, CA, literally a desert, I have again become surprised at the color around me. The first morning I was in my rental condo drinking coffee in living room I was startled to see the scene unfolding in front of me. The windows face west and look at Mt. Jacinto, about 10,000 ft. above the desert floor. It is pretty much a dull tan all day, a blue shadow at night. However, this morning when the sun was just right the entire mountain turned pink. I sat there stunned. To be honest, I usually sit and watch the scene unfold with a cup of coffee. It doesn't last long but to see the colors appear puts to rest that the desert is dull and boring.

During a recent storm, yes we DO get rain, a rainbow graced us for at least an hour.
Going outside to walk my dog, drivers pulled over to snap a photo of the sight. As you can see in the photo right, the clouds had already started to cover the mountains and it rained later that afternoon and evening. However, it still provided a wonderful contrast in colors, something that is just never seen when the grass is always green. 

Even the city of Palm Springs is embracing the drought by removing water hungry grass and trees and replacing them with more desert friendly plants. Just because they are desert friendly, it doesn't mean that they are dull and boring. In fact, they are anything but! Walking my dog and watching the process, I am surprised by how pretty and colorful desert tolerant plants
really are.

One of the big surprises to me was how popular and how the bougainvillea thrived in this desert climate. Used to seeing them in tropical Liberia, they seem equally at home here. They are everywhere in vibrant magentas, reds, blends along with a whole host of other desert friendly plants that add color all year round. That is certainly different than what most plants can offer and makes living here so wonderful.

Since I haven't been here a summer yet, we will see how this all fares. Some of the things will not change ... the blue, almost blinding skies, the shadows, the morning sunrises, the occasional clouds that change colors whenever the sun breaks through. colorful flowers and even more amazing colored cactus.

I urge you all to pay closer attention to the colors that surround you. See just what mother nature has done ... what colors has she used, if the effect is harmonious or jolting. I might add that just because its jolting, that doesn't necessarily make it bad. Study how colors blend, what colors are dissonant, what are complementary. Don't be afraid to use these combinations in your own work. If nature can do it, why can't we? Let the exploring begin!!!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please check some of the others. They cover a wide variety of topics but all with an eye on design.

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