How Do We Speak of the Things That We Love?
There is a shade of green, a shade of wrinkled, barely unfolded leaves that I heard whisper long ago. It is a green that has light shining through it, a green that is somehow light itself: light being light, light reflecting itself. And being light, it is more than green; it is gold as well, the color of early morning sun slanting past the soft new tips of oak leaves, turning them gold, setting them afire like the yellow lilies that float above their long leaves; fashioning the radiance of daffodils, gold in the midst of green meadows, trumpeting light.
It is a green of young pasture grass so tender my mouth waters and I want to graze, nuzzle its moistness; the same green of soft velvet slung across fallen logs in a dark forest or draped, new mown and fragrant over the many faces of my beloved lying under white stones, stones chiseled with names and dates in the hope of permanence.
This green-gold of new life is a color I first knew in the fields of my childhood, fields of long, sweet-smelling grass and pink clover, a green over which yellow and white butterflies fresh from the cocoon skimmed over tender milkweed, darted with swallows that I tried to draw with crayons in a big soft script v but my drawings could not speak the beauty of feathered grace, the glory of flight, the early morning sounds of nesting, the sticky stems of dandelions.
It was the gold of dandelions that wed brush underneath each others chin, Do you like butter? we’d ask ritually and bend to look at the underside of each others chins to see if there was a reflection of the flowers gold light, Do you like butter? we asked the same proof from buttercups later in the season, believing fervently that light illuminating soft down was a proof of butterlove. We knew it wasnt love of butter we were measuring, but love of something else our bodies knew and arched to embrace, something we yearned for, that was always just beyond our grasp. We knew, somehow, that it signified more than a game, that we, too, were part of the glory, reflecting the dappled green-gold light.
I tried to write my first book about it when I was nine, about brown shoots of grass, like little people who had waited underground all winter, until it was finally time to pull on their new green clothes and poke up through the wet earth. I dont know what happened to those carefully colored pages smudged with wax, but I realize now that I have spent a lifetime trying to tell about the green, perhaps in the hope of keeping it forever.
In my twenties, shortly after I was married, I saw a photograph in a magazine. It was a picture of a small screened porch with white wicker chairs, green ferns and a chintz fabric of delicate green and yellow leavery against a white background, that spoke to me of the message of dandelions and meadow grass, new leaves and daffodils. I tore it out and put it away, for it was too late to use then: we had let the furniture-sale prices decide our color scheme of orange and brown and olive in our first apartment. But over the years, although I lost the clipping and forgot the shapes of chairs and carpets in the picture, I never forgot its message: And in every house and every apartment, in every state I have lived, I have made one small green and yellow room, tried to recreate with fabric and paint and plants what I had heard and felt and smelled each spring, tried to find a way to reflect the light of green leaves and fragrant grasses that spoke so deeply after the harsh New England winters of my childhood.
Its promise drew me forward like a magnet during the long years when my life was filled with tears and loneliness, and it still draws me today at dawn when sun slanting across the spring garden, models with shadow the undulating meadows in the distance, shapes eachrolling pasture, each tree trunk in the early light. I say to my husband, Look! and he says, Yes, the flowers in the garden are beautiful! but I say, It is more than the flowers: Its the green, the new-yellow green of the leaves, of the hills, of the tips of oak leaves, the light shining through them ….
And my voice trails off, knowing I cannot put into words that which I have always seen and never been able to capture, always loved and never been able to paint or write or have inside my home, even as it lies forever inside me and forever all around me in the green-gold light. I tell him about the picture in the magazine, the way it has helped me try express a longing I have carried in my heart for a lifetime. Do you have a picture like that, too?
Oh, yes! he replies. When I was a boy, there was a Harley Davidson ad in a magazine, a drawing really, not a photo, of a motorcycle entering a bend on an open country road that winds up a long hill and disappears, he draws a serpentine road midair. And the caption underneath was: Sing a song of the open road. Every day when I drive up that hill, he points to a road nearby, I think of the picture in that ad.
What pictures, I wonder, do other people carry of something seen with reverence before the word was ever understood; a picture taken in and embraced, a companion that speaks to the hidden layers of their souls, not of lofty goals, but of the ordinary; an image they carry for a lifetime and try to make real until they too pass underneath the carved white stones to lie in hollows and join with the soft green gold forever?
~ Anne Hillman ~
"How Do We Speak of the Things That We Love" was originally published under the title, "The Meaning of Green" in The Salt Journal, January/February 2000, the new journal of the Salt Institute in Santa Fe, NM. The Institute is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to reconstructing meaning.