There are times when all I remember of my dreams is the colour green. Neither detail nor narrative survives my awakening, but a colour does. And even that is not entirely true, for no single colour represents the green of my dreams. I would not be able to stand in front of the walls of colour swatches, beloved by paint manufacturers and often raided by my daughter, and say, ‘That one. That’s the green from my dreams’. It’s not the livid lime green of Ash trees, spring fresh, growing on grey northern limestone. It’s not the sheened English Racing Green of ivy, inch-by-inch destroying my fence, or smothering a building. It’s not the smoky blue-green of Gum trees, fire prone and sweating oils in the summer sun.
The dream green feels calm, but not passive. It’s alive and moving, but so far it’s never been frightening. Other things do wake me in fright, spiders mainly or loud voices in darkened rooms; but not colours. The green is neither a distinct memory nor an unspoken wish, but it feels like both. I think it’s leaflight rather than sunlight. I think it’s the reflected light of a million woodland walks. Or long summer afternoons, doing nothing in fields busy with crickets. It’s the ghost of dampened moss, clinging in mist to the dwarf forests, high on Mt. Gower. It might even come from kelp, thrown on to the beach by wind and waves, adding a flavour of brown to the green, and bringing with it a hint of uncertainty.
Wherever it comes from, it’s the unused fraction of sunlight, cast aside by photosynthesis and reflected back into the world. Reflected back towards me, where I take it in and think of it as I sleep.
From sea level, looking upwards, the clouds look still and unmoving. The clouds sit atop the mountain like a cap, worn from habit, in most weathers, on most days. From inside the cloud, the experience is different. It rushes past you, with an energy that confounds the vision of stillness. Tiny droplets of water hurry past and collide with all that is solid. The windward side of my jacket gathers a sheen of water, and any gust of wind strong enough to move the head high branches around me sends a shiver of tree-rain down to the ground.
From the ground back up to the branches there is little but green. Water loving moss coats almost everything with softness, branches and boulders blur into the background, their edges hidden. Here the green hides both shape and form. The only exception is the thin, muddy path that winds a brown track between boulders and trees. To the left and right of the path fingers of green creep in, but seem to be kept at bay by the feet of walker bound for the summit for Mount Gower.
If you keep moving it’s warm enough, especially if you are walking up hill. But as soon as you stop, the wind pulls the warmth away. It’s best not to stop. Loose rucksack straps and the waist pulls of my jacket flap nosily. When you stop moving, snow piles against the sides of your boots, so that after a few minutes they are buried and invisible. The landscape is the same. Up slopes and downslopes are disguised by the movement of the snow. The three of us are brightly coloured specks in a flattened landscape that has lost its shape to white. In only a few places does the form of the land break through the winter coat. In these places, strands of grass and fragments of heather give the eye a reference point that pulls the land from whiteness into shape. Down the now visible slope the shape of a Ptarmigan appears as it knocks snow from a plant. Later in the day a shape looms from the snow, small, rounded, indistinct – it shape shifts as we approach, changing in my mind from one thing to another. I see a Mountain Hare, I see Snow Buntings, I see……I don’t know what I see. In the final few yards it becomes no more than a few stems and leaves, twitching and moving in the ever-present wind. I can’t see how I ever thought it was anything else.
The landscape resolves from these few scraps: pulled from the white by the presence of just one colour. Here the landscape takes form and shape only through the presence of green.
In most places movement is an addition. It’s something that comes from outside and makes things different. A windy woodland is so very different from its calm day cousin as to make them almost not relatives. The wind holds the branches and drags them around, making the stems twist to shapes unintended by the slow growth of wood and the response to sunlight. Small branches are wind tossed, like a doll or unfortunate rabbit shaken by a dog.
Meadows are different. When the grass is long movement is normal, the stems become a land sea, with waves rhythms and sheltered bays. Although the dull crump of a waves breaking is missing, the rushing of the grass makes a noise not dissimilar to waves. But once the grass is cut, the movement is gone, as is the sound. All that is left is the bright smell of mowing and open skies above.
But in some places the movement is part and parcel of the place, and its absence becomes noted when it is gone.
Underwater there is always movement. Tides and currents pluck at the fronds of seaweeds to form a chorus line of green movement. The shapes are uncertain and, just like the medium, fluid. The green only becomes still and shapeless when it is abandoned by the tide or cast ashore by the conspiracy of current and wind. In both cases the seaweeds, the algae, become flat and lifeless, with stipe too weak and frond too broad to stand upright and face the sun. If they lie flat for want of water, they may be rescued by the sea’s return at the turning of the tide, or they may accumulate at the strand line, awaiting decomposition or a higher tide.
Floating on the surface of Coles Bay, looking down through sparkle clear water, the seaweeds dance below. Long lines wave, short ones pulse. Each species seems to take the rhythm of the water and make it their own. Fish, brown, silver and striped, move between the food rich opportunity of the movement and the safety of the solid rocks that hold the dancers in place. The movement of the seaweeds produces an area of uncertainty.
At the waters edge the granite stones form a steep wall, beyond which is land and dry air. In a few places, maybe due to some crystalline difference or weakness in the rock, a faint platform will form, covered in shallow water and inviting to sit on. At this point, at low tide, you can sit with your backside on solid ground, your head and chest in the air and your legs and feet in the water. A kind of environmental triple point, where many things are possible. Behind the fold of my knee is a line of vivid green, limp and alive. I call it sea lettuce, and that may even be its name. It looks like old party wrap, or a line of the tissue paper from unwanted Christmas cracker hats. It is remarkably green, lurid really. And at the time I see it, it marks the boundary between air, land and sea, but manages to be part of all three.
It dawns on me, as I sit there with water-cooled feet and a sun-warmed head, that this spread of green and the life it provides, is a symbol of life on Earth. From space, we may hold fast to the blue planet, but it’s the green that gives it life.
I still dream of green.
And in that half moment between dream and awakening there is still the possibility that the green will continue, that the world outside will mimic the world within.
On some days it happens. On most days it does not.
I am unsure if this is a problem or an opportunity.
I’d better go outside to check.