Yellow, Orange, Red

Walking the Arboretum now, in mid-June, I see yellow everywhere; yellow, and to a lesser extent orange and red. Yellow in the flash of the flicker’s wings, on the tip of the waxwing’s tail, contrasting against black on the male American goldfinch. Fluttering yellow-and-black is a tiger swallowtail; fluttering yellow alone is a sulphur butterfly. Yellow in the flowers by the trailside: birdsfoot trefoil, bee clover, goatsbeard, leafy spurge. Yellow on the female American redstart; orange-red on her mate; yellow-orange on the female Baltimore oriole; bright orange on her partner. Purely red is the male cardinal; red-orange is the breast of the American robin and the Eastern bluebird, these colours not yet echoed in the plants.

There are other hints of red: the rich chestnut of the catbird’s undertail; the seldom-seen crown of the Eastern kingbird, the napes of male downy and hairy woodpeckers. Red dragonflies hover over the grass; red milkweed beetles crawl on the leaves of their host plant. The developing keys of hedge maple are edged with red; red glows in the inflorescence of pasture grasses, magnified by drops of last night’s rain; tiny red wild strawberries gleam.

Move to the other side of the colour wheel. Eastern bluebirds and chicory share sky blue with eastern tailed blue butterflies. Tree swallows claim a deeper blue; blue damselflies take a hue in-between, sharing it with the speculum on a mallard’s wing. Common vetch weaves purple among the grasses, echoed in the iridescence of grackle’s head.

Providing the background for all this is green, green in a thousand shades and hues and tints, leaves, grass, moss, needles. Green so dark it is nearly black; green so pale it is translucent. Green holding a memory of blue, a wash of pink, a streak of yellow, green that changes with sunlight, cloud, time, all of it giving us oxygen, food, life, transmuted by the biochemistry and genes into yellow, orange, red, blue; feathered, carapaced, petalled, scaled.

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