Wednesday, October 28, 2009


     It would be a beautiful thing if there were a map that faithfully captured the natural colors of our country. There would naturally have to be the dark green of the pines, the deep color of the spruce, and the light green blurriness of the leafy forest; but the soil would contribute most of the color as we see it now in autumn, freshly overturned, still unweathered, unbleached by frost and dryness. Such a map would of course largely correspond with a geological map, but it would not be so erudite and would serve to delight the eyes, for it would be beautifully colored and richly tinted like a work of art, which freely mixes all these clays on its palette, reliable colors that do not run.

     There is an orderly progression of colors from white sand to the thick black of the richest earth. Some places have whitish topsoil or a lightish gray, there are soils colored like milk chocolate, as if they were powdered or bleached dry, almost bluish, or like milk dripped slowly into coffee. Then there are yellowish clays with various hues of ochre and rust, blond and yellow soils, ruddy earth with streaks of Naples yellow or Indian yellow or burnt umber. The browns of course would have the widest range of colors, from the lightest straw to the darkest, richest sepia, from the sharpest tints to the rich reddish (almost chocolate-colored) hues, coffee brown, chestnut brown, the brown of burnt clay or the tanned brown of bread crusts, the dry and pale brown of shallow and stony topsoil, or the plump and juicy brown of loess or alluvial deposits. And finally scarlet earth, the reds from the color of rust to that rich red which toys with the violet, siennas of all intensity, the color of bricks burned in the oven, red edges or strata seemingly painted with blood or vermillion, as if burning with the color of the setting sun. Each region in turn, or even each village in turn has its own dominant color and its own shade of soil, and now that the harvest is brought in, the full map of cultivated land speaks directly to us.

     And think of everything that's been put into it: lime and heaps of black manure and ashes and powders; it is interesting that hundreds and hundreds of years of work cannot overpower or weaken the inborn color of the land. Humans have fertilized and overturned that thin little strip of topsoil for hundreds of years, covering it year after year with cultural accretions of labor, but a deep brown area stays deep brown and the yellow country stays yellow; the land will not permit itself to be re-colored; the ages cannot carry off its tongue, its hues. It cannot be done with the tractor or the spade, after light-colored wheat or dark-colored potatoes it resounds brown or yellow depending on its original shade. The ground is nowhere uniform; nations and cultures can bestride it and mix on it, but that which they tramp on cannot be taken away or intermingled on horseback. Perhaps that is why we like to talk about our native land; we want a piece of its constancy. Look about you, sir, what a solid and anciently-colored piece of work our soil is; it will outlast us.

     When one talks about the colors of autumn, let us not forget the beautiful and warm colors of the topsoil hidden by the plow. Even there are we a land richly blessed, endowed with a coat of many colors; we are an impression, so to speak, of all different types of soil, and all of the different geological eras have operated to bring about this small piece of land. People with their own shades and colors come off rather poorly, probably because they just got here yesterday, in geological terms. It will be a while yet before people look at the colored map of nations and states with the same joy as at a map of the soil.


[I rolled a d64 (you can also call it the "I Ching") to determine how many lines I had to translate today, and got #64. Hmm. Alternate title: "Čapek gets a new box of crayons."]

1 comment:

Casey said...

Problem solved.