how to paint the desert {days 18-19: new mexico, arizona, california}

25 Sep

You must put away your greens.

Start with blue, for the sky. Or brown, for the ground and for the mountains. Yellow, for the dotted lines of roads that no one but you is driving.

Yes, first take your blue. Paint the sky, bluer near you, softer and white near the mountains in the distance. Paint the parched branches, blue in their dryness. Paint the mountains that look blue and one-dimensional in the distance, straight-edged and bumped, like a third-grader has drawn them with colored pencils.

Then maybe take your brown. There are a thousand browns–sand, sienna, burnt umber, the colors of a crayon box. Wallace Stegner was right–there is enough color here, just in the browns, to satisfy you if you let it.

Mix the brown. With red, for the mountains that are just beginning to turn. If you drove north, to Sedona, to Flagstaff, they would turn more red. But you are not north. You are here. Mix the browns. Apply paint to paper, to canvas. There is beauty, in this.

In an hour or a day or a month, your eyes will adjust, as to the darkness. You will beg for your greens. You will see green everywhere. The lechaguilla and chapparral and yucca in New Mexico. The saguaros in the mountains around Tucson, their many arms curving toward the sky. Soft mint: the succulents that grow just on the roadside. Bright kelly green: the thick bushes and spindly bushes that you could mistake for grass if you did not look close.

But you do.

Now you may get out your greens. Paint the plants that stretch their branches to the sky, soft like pipe cleaners. Paint the things that look like grass to you, you with the lush green lawn. Paint the bushes as tall as trees.

There is a miracle here. There is color. There is life. And you have eyes to see it.

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