“I like this day; I like that sky of steel; I like the sternness and stillness of the world under this frost.…” Mr. Rochester, Jane Eyre
We begin by agreeing with Mr. Rochester’s comments on the weather. We don’t always agree with this turbulent fellow, it is true, but he redeems himself by being sensible enough to fall in love with Jane Eyre.
I remember my first read of Jane Eyre, years ago, and being startled by this unguarded moment in the narrative. It is now one of my favorite scenes. Mr. Rochester, the brooding cynic who liked to talk in cryptic, mocking terms, suddenly reveals a bit of his heart.
“I like this day.” For once he speaks as a simple man, with simple tastes.
I also like the color of sky on frosty days. It pairs well with the faded yellow leaves that are still much in evidence in my region. Late November into December has a changing color palette; a definite personality of somber but rich hues in the landscape. Here in the Pacific Northwest our skies do not remain steely for long; there are always new clouds to come billowing in and bring fresh rounds of that wetness we like to call ‘precipitation’.
No one discusses weather better than the Brontes, so here you have Emily Bronte’s description of precipitation:
‘On an afternoon in October, or the beginning of November—a fresh watery afternoon, when the turf and paths were rustling with moist, withered leaves, and the cold blue sky was half hidden by clouds—dark grey streamers, rapidly mounting from the west, and boding abundant rain…’
The few leaves left to us you could describe as a ‘heathered’ yellow; flecks of brown and gray embedded in the yellow creates a tone reminiscent of the lovely Scottish heathered wools. It is more than a color; it is a transition. What word best describes this?
From the poets—actually, from archaic English kept alive by the poets— we have an unusual word that well befits this late fall color palette.
The word ‘sear’ denotes much more than just a color—it conveys the physicality of it. There is a withering, a decay, in progress that could never be expressed by just saying ‘yellow’, or ‘brown’.
Only sear will do.
“November’s sky is chill and drear,
November’s leaf is red and sear.”
– Sir Walter Scott
“The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sear.”
– William Cullen Bryant
‘Yet once more, O ye Laurels, and once more
Ye Myrtles brown, with Ivy never-sear,
I com to pluck your Berries harsh and crude,
And with forc’d fingers rude,
Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.’
– John Milton, Lycidas
This term ‘sear’ usually brings to mind what we do to a steak. It is the browning of it, and the browning, crisping stage of a leaf that provides the common denominator. Sear (archaic ‘sere’, from where we also get ‘sorrel‘) can also mean withered.
From my trusty ‘Dictionary of Word Origins’ by Eric Partridge
(At the introduction of the word withered is where we abruptly stop thinking of steak…)
Although sear or sere as a term for color is now considered archaic, it beautifully describes this aging yellow of late November against slate gray skies and frosty rooftops.
I wanted to capture this color harmony in wool or stone. November was rapidly slipping away and I hadn’t yet chronicled November as a tangible ‘thing’. I have this goal–not always realized–to capture a day, moment, event by creating a tactile object that somehow grounds me to that moment in time. I wanted November to be much more than a passing blur on a calendar.
“You think all existence lapses in as quiet a flow as that in which your youth has hitherto slid away….”
So said Mr. Rochester.
This particularly pleasing combination of shadow and light in the landscape dominated my color imagination. For one thing, my fourth floor windows stare out onto a neighborhood of slate gray rooftops punctuated by yellow leafed trees, so it has been part of my daily vision for some time.
Clearly, not just any yellow would do when one is attempting a Bronte mood for a warm and fuzzy object; when the desire is to capture…
‘steely sky and slow shatter’d leaves.’
Nothing too sulfurous…nor mustardy…not buttery…no golden glow of gingko hues…maybe palest raw cornsilk…?
Then I saw it. A lovely heathered old gold wool, courtesy of Rowan. A contrasting ‘sky’ was found in rich charcoal (alpaca blend for softness) and before long I was happily creating the soft and steely grandeur of my November day.
‘We will now turn to a certain still, cold, cloudy afternoon about the commencement of December, when the first fall of snow lay thinly scattered over the blighted fields and frozen roads, or stored more thickly in the hollows of the deep cart-ruts and footsteps of men and horses impressed in the now petrified mire of last month’s drenching rains.’
‘I remember it well.’ Anne Bronte; Tenant of Wildfell Hall
As landscape and tempestuous weather fueled the imagination for the Bronte sisters, resulting in memorable characters placed in memorable scenes, I respond to my environment in different ways. As mentioned, I can be slightly obsessed with colors and textures–in beading, tapestry, and crochet. Thus my current landscape might not produce a novel, or a Mr. Rochester, a Heathcliff, or even an Arthur Huntingdon (thank goodness–no more Arthurs, please) ; but there is a good chance I will produce some handwarmers and a scarf. And if Mr. Rochester would let me, I would knit him a cardigan in shades of steely gray. Perhaps the incomparable Jane did so, and he loved her even more. If that is possible.
As for this November that has just passed? ‘I will remember it well.’