The maple has dropped perhaps seventy percent of its leaves now. All the upper branches on its south-facing side are bare and the morning light glows through into my studio. The north-facing side is holding its secrets a while longer.
I love that I can see—in the wide gap between the Norway maple and a different neighbor’s Douglas fir—a distant blue smudge of mountains in Washington State.
In a middle-school art class in my hometown of Aurora, Colorado, I once painted a picture of blue mountains beyond a wide green valley speckled with wildflowers. Blue-green foothills, and mountains in deepening shades of blue and violet. We saw the Rockies every time we walked outside, and I painted those mountains the way I saw them in my mind’s eye. But then another student made fun of them. Mountains aren’t blue, he scoffed. And I remember the sudden flood of doubt. Of course he was right. Mountains are brown and green and gray and snow-white. What was I thinking? Mortified, I cut the entire mountain range off the page and threw it away. I tried pasting the meadow to a new sheet of paper and painting properly tinted mountains, but the glue wrinkled the paper and anyway, the new range was hideous. I trashed the entire thing.
And went outside and saw that I’d been right. There was blue in the hills. I’ve been watching for blue mountains all my life. For a few years I lived at the feet of the Blue Ridge and drank in those blues and violets all day long, feeling like I’d found my own personal Innisfree.
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I’ve thought often of that boy in class with a kind of wry gratitude and ruefulness. Of course I had no idea at the time, but that encounter helped shape me: it taught me to trust my own artistic vision. I knew what I knew. My mountains were blue, and they were beautiful. Everywhere I’ve gone, “standing on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,” I’ve seen them in the deep heart’s core.