Mixing Colors


A solo hike today. It doesn’t matter how many times I climb this particular trail, with its switchbacks and rocky trenches. It doesn’t matter if the sun is beating down or snow is blowing sideways. Before I even catch my breath, I have to look down into the next drainage. It’s a whole other world down there, an appealing place that I want to admire from this high point, then scamper down and explore.

It’s the headwaters of a river–remote, but not that far away. I remember one of the first times I ever went there…it was late June and the snow was still melting. There was water running downhill from every direction, making soggy bright green meadows. Squeaking sounds from across the infant river caught my attention. Down in the trees were elk cows and their new calves. I held still and watched.

This time of year, summer is over and the green of growing things is no longer the dominant color. The sky is dramatic with boiling clouds and a rumble of thunder. A few moments later, the sun is warm and mild. Ravens cruise and call overhead. The grasses are a toasty golden color, and a few patches of huckleberry color linger. A vast patch of thimbleberry bushes downslope has been transformed by one night of sub-freezing temperature. The leaves hang onto the stems, but are dry and many shades of brown. I pass through swaths of air, sensing subtle changes in temperature, humidity, scent.

Autumn colors get me thinking about my box of pastels, especially the warm earthy pigments. As I hike with my eyes taking it all in, mental fingers are choosing ochres and umbers, a touch of vermilion. All day, I am drawing in my mind, and mixing colors. October is rich.

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