Our Environment: “The Beauty of Winter Gray” By Scott Turner

Sunday, December 23, 2018


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Vineyards at the Pennsylvania-New York border along Interstate 90 Credit: Scott Turner

If you delve into the meanings behind colors, you’ll find that gray is considered a neutral or background color often combined with “brighter accent colors.” Moreover, gray is typically thought of as a “cool” emotional color, as in moody or depressing.

Shades of gray, all generally dreary, described the surroundings on a 1,400-mile drive last weekend to Ohio, almost all via Interstate 90. The purpose of the trip was to pick up our son, Noah, from the conclusion of his first semester in college, spend some time with Karen’s family, and then return to Rhode Island.

Most of our driving took place during daylight hours. Overcast skies looked like a gray bedspread. The lowest-and-thickest appearance was often of steel wool. Sometimes the firmament it brought to mind the stands of a dirty mop or the fur of a dead mouse.

The gray color of a brightening sky was reminiscent of cold fireplace ash or the lighter-colored residue in an ashtray.

Because the temperature was in the mid-30s and light rain came and went, road crews swathed the lanes in road salt, adding the lightest of gray color to the landscape.

That was until a lone moment near Rochester, N.Y., where steely light illuminated the dashboard. Lo and behold, it was the sun, trying, as the saying goes, to “break through the clouds.” The sun was a somber silver disk, surrounded by a halo of frosty light that charcoal-colored clouds soon swallowed up.

Both days, fog adorned the landscape. This vapor floated mostly north to south like fingers of gray sand brushing the landscape.

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CA vineyard in Summer

We’ve made a December trip to Ohio most years since the mid-90s. This was one of the few times in which the countryside was snow free. That meant the ground, the remains of low-growing plants, and the trees were visible through the fog. They were all various shades of brown.

A snow-less landscape also meant that hawks were a common sighting, as the open grassy areas of the highway were their habitat. From their size and markings, most of the raptors were Red-tailed hawks.

Also unusual for mid-December was the lack of complete ice-cover on some of the lakes and ponds in places, such as Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in Seneca Falls, N.Y., where multiple skeins of geese winged over the highway at once in a primeval and spectacular sky show.

The only other landscape colors belonged to the blue (sometimes brown) waters of the canals: Erie, Oswego and Cayuga-Seneca. 

West of Irving, New York, in the Lake Erie grape-growing region, the heavens—the color of elephant skin—served as the backdrop for the most-exuberant hue of the trip: The golden-orange color of twigs in willow-tree screens and windbreaks between the highway and the vineyards.

Sometimes these tree rows were more of a burnt-orange in color. Other times, they seemed to glisten gold.

Alas, through the smoky fog, nickel clouds and hoary residue of road salt on black-and-gray asphalt, we found light in the pre-winter shadows. Gray may be considered somber, but orange is said to denote warmth and encouragement.

Indeed, on the drive back to Providence, I made sure to spot those willows of Western New York ASAP. They added extra joy to the trip.

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Scott Turner is a Providence-based writer and communications professional. For more than a decade he wrote for the Providence Journal and we welcome him to GoLocalProv.com. 


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