The colour of appearances

Driving West, Ed Sheeran on the radio singing songs he has written and I find that the leaves simply change colour through the course of his Afterglow. How very apt. I cannot think of a more perfect song for the changing hues of foliage, leaving Pennsylvania, the sun laying claim to the west, like a glittering exhibitionist .. and then Lake Erie with her choppy waters. A thought crosses my mind, an acronym I knew for the great Lakes – HOMES; never imagined I would one day see the water that makes up all of that E. Who knew vowels could contain so much water. Here, it is autumn and the leaves are beginning to hoard hue.

Stop the clocks, it's amazing
You should see the way the light dances off your head
A million colours of hazel, golden and red
Saturday morning is fading
The sun's reflected by the coffee in your hand
My eyes are caught in your gaze all over again (Ed Sheeran, Afterglow)

Further on in this song, Sheeran sings of Iron and Wine, the stage name of singer-songwriter Samuel “Sam” Ervin Beam whose songs are actually the stuff of poetry. I like Iron and Wine; that Ed Sheeran listens to him, is heartening. Perhaps it informs his own poetry and he speaks for both of them when he says “There’s no better way to get your point across than to put it to a beautiful song”. The sign made me smile.

At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio

Sam Beam too has sung songs of Autumn and I have excerpted some of his brilliant lyrical poetry, because I like it.

There are times that walk from you like some passing afternoon
Summer warmed the open window of her honeymoon
And she chose a yard to burn but the ground remembers her
Wooden spoons, her children stir her Bougainvillea blooms

There are things that drift away like our endless, numbered days
Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made
And she's chosen to believe in the hymns her mother sings
Sunday pulls its children from the piles of fallen leaves

(Passing Afternoon from the album 'Our Endless Numbered days' 2004)

It is easy to be inspired by Autumn, our consciousness of the colour of senescence, the passage of time through the hue of everything that the light makes delightful ..

Dappled moments caught in the weft 
of the carpet like splashes of colour
and I noticed a mimosa in the drink.
The outdoors drenched in fresh hues
of rain and light danced a myriad ways
to red. Yellowing canopies little
thirst for the rambunctious energy
of green so the grove shimmered
all shades through that late afternoon.
Now that I think about it, laid thick
onto those off coloured regrets were
spent sentiments, a dilution of resolve,
the death rattle of a fading of dreams.
What did we absorb to reflect so?
Simply a mirror, the land, sky, you, I ..

davina e. solomon,
Pennsylvania 2021

Autumn is a time for thoughtful retreat. There is a reason why nature wills itself to sleep, it is simply the absence of light. I never experienced such a season in the tropics, life is brazenly bright in those places where people usually have sunny dispositions and write poetry to the monsoons and harvests, mostly.

Just in case you are wondering about the science and why we think we see leaves reflect green, researchers are struggling to explain this still. Chloroplasts use the energy of green (at least 90% of it) and there could be other structures of the leaf cell that help reflect this colour.

Given the noise of light that reaches the leaves, or even those shaded in the undergrowth, the leaf photosynthetic apparatus tries its utmost to absorb similar wavelengths of light and that which it receives at differing rates. The photosynthetic machinery has evolved ‘ not for maximum efficiency but rather for an optimally smooth and reliable output’. [1] The plant system aims for stability, not system efficiency which, I like to think, is the hallmark of the natural world. (I wrote earlier of the inefficiencies described in the wing -planform of the dragonfly).

Other pigments that accumulate in the leaf are also responsible for the multiple hues which we can observe in plants during Autumn. Yet, why we see colour the way we do still needs to be investigated further. Unlike in many other mammals, trichromacy evolved in humans, i.e. red, green, and blue colour vision, possibly for foraging, social signalling or through evolutionary constraint. [2]

I am intrigued by the change in colours and how the hues we observe, give meaning to nature and to life or perhaps, it is we who ascribe colour to situations in myriad ways. Even research hopes to explain this someday, until then, we have only poems.




Cedar of God

They beheld the Cedar mountain, abode of the God,
Throne-seat of Irnini.
From the face of the mountain
The Cedars raise aloft their luxuriance.
Good is their shade,
full of delight.

                                           Epic of Gilgamesh [1]

There is a majestic Cedar of Lebanon in the Van Vleck Gardens at Montclair. This tree that could potentially attain a grand height of 140 feet and a diameter of 8 feet, has a rough scaly bark which is dark grey to blackish brown, marked by deep fissures. [2] The crown of this beauty, conical when young, now sports level branches. There were cones at the ends of the shoots when I saw it yesterday. 

I was quite disheartened to learn that these Cedars, native to Lebanon, barely survive in a vulnerable patch at Bsharri in Lebanon, in a copse a few hundred meters across, which in earlier times stretched hundreds of kilometers, as noted by Paleontologist  Mike Pole in 2016 [3]

Cedrus libani, a true Cedar that belongs to the family Pinaceae, is an evergreen, has medicinal uses and wood prized for its fine grain, attractive yellow colour, fragrance, exceptional durability and immunity to insect ravages [2].

In the Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh, both Gilgamesh and Enkidu travel to the Lebanon Mountain to cut these Cedars (which can be traced back to 3 BC). I am not sure how heroic such an act of deforestation was, which included the killing of the radiant guardian of the Cedar forest, the giant demon Humbaba, renowned for his terrifying, supernatural powers, whose severed head was then affixed to a cedar door and sent to the temple of Enlil, king of the gods [4].

Even if there are fewer Cedars of God at Bsharri [5], the tree survives as the national emblem of Lebanon and in the logo of Middle East Airlines, Lebanon’s national carrier. It also graciously lent its support to Lebanon’s ‘Cedar Revolution’ of 2005 [2]

Widely used as an ornamental tree in parks and gardens, I have always admired this magnificent specimen at Montclair and figured it deserved a poem.

Cedar of God

The grand soliloquy of a stately tree
is simply an intifada* of shoots and leaves.

The grenades explode someplace loamy
or sandy clay, as scaly cones germinate

the Earth, in a sparkling resistance against
the vagaries of once divine deforestation.

A Cedar in Lebanon disappears like time,
in a crown lost to Gilgamesh and then to

rainbow revolutions. Needles spiral forth
marking the epoch in severed limbs and souls

knowing nothing is lost to fate except the
omnipotence of man. Simply immortal, is the tree.


Intifada ~ Arabic intifāḍa, literally, the act of shaking off, rebellion, uprising (Merriam-Webster)