Tuesday, November 12, 2013

On Vocabulary

I pulled back the curtains in the study this morning (our "This Old House" exudes its charms this time of year in the form of drafts, and curtains are a handy way to block the more egregious of them) to discover a rear shade garden awash in shades of yellow--the populist color, as Christopher Lloyd dubbed it.

At this time of year, I can't imagine the eye NOT attuned to lighting and coloration which change daily. Yet our modern, busy lives increasingly orient us away from the spectacle of the world and towards the entrapped, elusive light of the screen.

But there it was: an overnight metamorphosis providing the bookend to the 2013 gardening season. If we began with spring yellows, we end with autumnal ochres.

The Solomon's Seal--comparatively, the least exuberant of the garden yellows at the moment--caught my attention, for its transfiguration has only just begun, its flavescent leaves suspended just for today in a curious interregnum as viridity yields to heraldic gold.

In less than a minute the following happened.

I wanted to jot a haiku in its honor, but Polygonatum just seemed, visually, too bulky a word, even if, syllabically, it conveniently satisfied first line requirements.

I then began to think of (or rather look up) the diversity of words we have to capture one color and its multiple hues and shades:

aurulent, chartruese, citreous, citrine, flavescent, gamboge, goldenrod, icteritious, isabelline (like graying-yellow hair we hope to avoid), jessamy, luteolous, luteous, lutescent, melichrous (like honey), meline, ochre, ochroleucous, or, primrose, sulphureous, tawny, tilleul, topaz, vittelary, and xanthic.

What language!

I spied a fulvous aging white port  in the lower leaves of Carolina Allspice, which reminded me of a nearly-forgotten bottle and my time in Porto in 2011.

There was a wheaten sunset supplied by a potted Sum and Substance Hosta at the base of Mount (Sawtooth) Aucuba, while on the other side, was a rising icterine sun in the form of Kerria japonica 'Golden Guinea'. A most pleasing microcosm of our world.

And then there was the white.

No: not the white from the errant flowers of the leatherleaf viburnum (Viburnun rhytidophyllum) or the few remaining chrysanthemums or even the Camellia sassanqua.


This was the white of falling snow: one bookend overlapping with another.

This is our world: a panoply, a diversity, a richness, a mutability that we dismiss by calling it cyclical (as if to say, "if you miss it this year, it will happen again next"). How much of it goes increasingly unnoticed? 


  1. How true....and chartreuse is a fun word!

  2. Agreed, Angi! (And do you know what makes it even more fun? It's a French liqueur!)