It has rained all day. Dark stagnant clouds that got hung up on the mountains on their way to eastern Washington, too heavy with rain to make it up and over. But late this afternoon a wind gave them a big push. So right now, outside there is this odd light that I have wondered for years how to describe.

Where I am it is still deep charcoal gray.But  ‘down below’ as we call it, that late, low slanting light has broken through underneath the clouds. I love it when this happens because the trees just glow. If any of you have ever found agates on the beach, when the sun is low and illuminates them so they shine amber among dull rocks you’ll know what I mean. It’s that same kind of glow.

But what color is it? Since you can’t see it, how can I describe it correctly? These are the things that challenge me as a writer, more so that stock writing exercises. When I see something that so moves me, and yet the words just aren’t right. How can you describe color unless you are a painter? Well, there’s that old box of crayons. But dang if I can remember any of the names other than Burnt Umber. That one sticks with me because, for some reason, I thought if I could melt it the color would change.

So this late, low light isn’t gold. It’s richer. It’s not amber. It’s a tad lighter. Maybe closer to a glass of my husband’s favorite single malt. It’s definitely not in the yellow shades. And yet it’s also not in the red shades. This isn’t the color you see during a normal sunset, where you get those flame colors, and those deep reds.

A friend of mine who is a poet, swims the freezing Skykomish river. She has talked about the colors underwater, all the shades of green and gold. And she says she can tell when fall is coming because those summer shades deepen. She doesn’t know if it’s from leaf litter in the water, or just the changing angle of the sun.

Her description, the way I picture it (since I don’t swim in that river), is the closest I can find to describing this light. I can imagine those deep greens and golds that she would see underwater, and it’s that same image I get now. Maybe it’s the way water changes color. After a day of rain, when everything is saturated, and the light hits those drops, it might be the same as fall light angling through an emerald river.

It has taken me over 400 words to try to describe a color. That makes me laugh. Is it a sign of being a writer, that it takes so many words, or is it a sign of seeing something beautiful and being at a loss as to how to make you see it, too?

Well, maybe it’s just a sign of a piece that needs some editing.

But…can you see the color? Do you know what I’m trying to describe? Have you seen it? And how would you, writer or not, describe that shade?

11 thoughts on “Light

  1. I’m seeing near you right now through that town internet “live” camera and the colors coming through those clouds to me are a peachy/purply/creamy/grey toned mixture that only a tapestry could create! Of course, this camera’s lens coloration broadcast may be skewed, like tv’s in the olden days when skin could be red or blue! I’m sure it’s not that far off – but I love watching clouds reflecting light like this, though I think where you are you are seeing it from a truly wonderful perspective. Got Your CAMERA handy? Run out there – get a snap, and post it!!


  2. Pat, that is just so weird that there is a camera around here somewhere. Though I think it’s out at the highway isn’t it? Anyway, I did think of my camera, but it just wasn’t picking up the color. And now it’s raining again. Interesting that you saw peach and purple. Years ago I had a very gullible woman convinced that how you saw color depended on what color your eyes were. That if you were looking through blue eyes, color seemed different than if you looked through brown eyes. She believed me. It was hilarious.


  3. haha Lisa, you are hilarious…but who can prove the opposite???
    And yeah a camera never really captures the real color we see with our eyes, or I see with my eyes I have to say now…;-)


    • The scary part was that this woman was my supervisor at the time, and in her 30s. This same woman fell for another prank when I wrapped a swatch of fake hair around a perm rod and had my customer start screaming that her hair was falling out. When the supervisor came running back, I held out the perm rod and said “I don’t know what happened!”. Her expression was priceless.


  4. The color sounds familiar to me. I love all the different kinds of sunsets I’ve seen with my own eyes and in photos. But I’ve never been in an area like yours and I’m just not sure. But reading these words you wrote to help me try, and your desire to share the sight with me, tells me so much about how it makes you feel, that I believe I feel some of that. As a reader, that feels like enough.


  5. This is a beautiful description. In my mind, I think I can picture that in-between color you’re so desperately trying to help us see. Not quite one, not quite the other; it falls into an area of the color wheel that can only be compared to your husband’s glass of scotch or the exact shade of red my cheeks turn when I’m embarrassed.

    Love this!


  6. Sometimes the air looks burned. Not smoky, not bright, but burned, as if the sun has colored every particle of the air, made it opaque, like you could touch it and feel the color. (Argh– you’re right! Too many words!)


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