Crazy For Color

Seeking fall’s chromatic clues to happiness and balling babies

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photo

Tom Brossart/Roundup

Fall colors peaked last weekend in many areas atop the Mogollon Rim. The brilliant reds in the big toothed maple leaves come from anthocyanins manufactured in the sealed-off leaf once the green chlorophyll fades.

photo

Tom Brossart/Roundup

Fall colors peaked last weekend in many areas atop the Mogollon Rim. The brilliant reds in the big toothed maple leaves come from anthocyanins manufactured in the sealed-off leaf once the green chlorophyll fades.

photo

Tom Brossart/Roundup

Fall colors peaked last weekend in many areas atop the Mogollon Rim. The brilliant reds in the big toothed maple leaves come from anthocyanins manufactured in the sealed-off leaf once the green chlorophyll fades.

photo

Tom Brossart/Roundup

Stretches of FR 300, 321 and 218C last weekend offered an extravagance of fall colors. The yellow colors in fall leaves come from leftover compounds called xanthophylis and carotenoids that shine through once the green chlorophyll fades away.

photo

Tom Brossart/Roundup

Stretches of FR 300, 321 and 218C last weekend offered an extravagance of fall colors. The yellow colors in fall leaves come from leftover compounds called xanthophylis and carotenoids that shine through once the green chlorophyll fades away. By contrast, leaves convert carbohydrates into the brilliant red compounds for reasons that still mystify biologists, since the tree will shortly shed the leaves. The red compounds might reduce frost or insect damage.

photo

Tom Brossart/Roundup

Color experts say red boosts heart rate, respiration and blood pressure.

photo

Tom Brossart/Roundup

Fall color is everywhere in the Rim Country. The Big Tooth Maples are ablaze with reds and yellows, while the oaks and aspens are showing off their best gold hues.

So I’m just sitting here on the banks of the East Verde, my brain sparking from a contact high with yellow.

And brown.

And gold.

And orange.

And the faintest flush of red.

All somehow conjured from a background of fading green.

Fall has burst out on every hand, like some gaudy, sequined drag queen shedding his tear-away three-piece suit. I’m perched on my rock on the edge of the creek’s babble, punch drunk on shades of yellow. The sycamores and willows have already rioted now flutter with exhaustion. The great-turned cottonwoods have watched the revelries for a week, but have finally lost their restraint.

Every year, I marvel and need and wonder at this extravagant display. But this year, I’m determined to sit right here until I figure it out.

Why does fall always make me feel half drunk and twice alive? Why can’t I feel like this all the time? ’Cause I’ll confess it to you right now: If fall was a drug, I’d mainline it. I’d hock my grandmother’s jewelry and my grown kid’s collectable Star Wars toys so I could get another fix and fall down in a stupor outside the rescue mission.

Like any addict, I can’t explain myself. It’s just, so, well, yellow (and red and gold and sometimes purple — oh, Lord, save me from leaves with a whiff of purple.)

A barely chilled wind rustles through the trees, stirring a chromatic flutter. I want to confess my sins, give away my worldly goods, study at the feet of a druid, roll naked in the damp brown earth until I am covered with yellow sycamore leaves. I’m utterly lost.

Color. Must be color, something in the transition from summer’s green to fall’s yellow/orange/red must account for my fits and trembling.

So to prove it, I looked up “color + psychology” on the Internet: I think we’re on to something here.

So, start with summer green, the sly hat trick of chlorophyll, the compound that makes it possible for leaves to produce energy from sunlight. The tree pumps chlorophyll into its leaves all summer long, constantly replacing that vital element as sunlight breaks it down. The leaves get so loaded with chlorophyll in the heady days of summer that everything looks green. Come fall, the dwindling day length prompts the tree to seal off the leaves. Once the careless chlorophyll breaks down, compounds tinted yellow, orange, red and brown dominate.

Now, green’s very easy on the brain, calming all those excitable neurotransmitters. That accounts for the “green rooms” in which talk show guests linger and the reassuring green medical gowns donned by surgeons. Western cultures associate green with fertility, intelligence, luck, wealth and generosity.

So now, let’s say I’ve been strolling along the East Verde River through luminous, leafy green all summer and bingo, everything turns yellow/orange. What’s the psychological effect?

Well, psychologists (and color consultants) say yellow provokes feeling of happiness — cheerful optimism. It symbolizes joy, sunlight, happiness, earth, optimism, intelligence and idealism. Yellow improves concentration, hence the yellow tint on legal pads. Also speeds up the metabolism. But this is odd: too much yellow makes you irritable. Babies cry more in yellow rooms. People get more short-tempered. Go figure.

Now add a dash of orange. A favorite hue of the Buddhists, orange evokes energy, enthusiasm, playfulness, aggression, arrogance, gaudiness, danger and desire.

Finally, slip in a hint of red, the prima donna of colors. Love. Danger. Red boosts heart rate, respiration and blood pressure. So people supposedly have more confrontations in red rooms. Red things look bigger. The color is associated with passion, strength, sex, speed, heat, ambition, courage, masculinity, power, danger, blood, war, communism, martyrs and states that vote Republican.

Does that account for it then — the emotional shift from green-room summer leaves to a blaze of joyfully irritating yellow?

Doesn’t seem sufficient, somehow.

But then, happiness has always mystified me. I’ve never really understood why it sometimes sweeps me up like an amorous supermodel only to suddenly cast me aside.

Best, I suppose, to simply sit and wallow when she turns her golden eyes on you. Don’t move — just memorize the feeling as best you can for the bare limbs of winter.

So I shall, sit a while longer, although this piece was due hours ago. I shall simply let myself be calmed by the verdant cottonwoods, energized by the orange shifted sycamores and rendered happy just sort of crying by the yellow willows.

Settling in, I look up and note the startling blue of the sky.

Blue. My, oh my. Don’t get me started.

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