Wallace Stegner said that to appreciate the arid west, “You have to get over the color green; you have to quit associating beauty with gardens and lawns…”
I sometimes call Albuquerque the Big Brown. Not as an insult. Not with full affection. Perhaps somewhere in between, depending on how I feel. Tan, chocolate, taupe—there’s a shade of earth here for every mood. Last month, my neighbor explained they’re moving back to Arkansas because they missed the color green. “There is plenty of green here,” I said, gesturing to the mountains through the beige haze caused by a distant forest fire.
Big Brown was not for them.
Apparently brown invites little inspiration. Has anyone ever said their favorite color is brown? An ugly color survey identified “dark drab brown” and “beige” as the worst. Some countries require cigarette packaging to use brown, mustard yellow, and some sinister shade of olive to make them unappealing. Our culture directs us to appreciate verdant green and tidy, cultivated yards, not raw, khaki-hued earth or sand without a beach.
I don’t mind the brown, but I’m not entirely over the color green. It’s sometimes nice to quit the desert and climb into the mountains next door. To walk upon grasses and beneath oak and aspen leaves. To smell the fragrance of other lives—a mingling of fir, spruce, and, as the trail faces south, the signature cinnamon and nutmeg of ponderosas.
The monsoons are here, and the mountain air is thick and serious. Ample clouds billow against azure skies. Sometimes they rain violence. I prefer, however, the jumbo, cold raindrops spaced so far apart I believe I can elude them by weaving erratically. But I don’t want to avoid them. So heavy and voluminous, they strike bare skin with ten times the mass of a common raindrop (and splatter). They thud when hitting dirt and recoil with a bounce on hot pavement, attempting to return skyward.
No matter their form, the rains anoint and relieve. Their promise of green lures me into the mountains, not to avoid the desert’s brown but to crush fir needles between my fingers and smell the cool of Christmas in the summer.