Monday, January 28, 2013

Fifty shades of brown

I might have labeled this post "the fifty shades of gray" since gray (or grey) is just as prevalent a color this time of year on the steppes...but I understand that name has been preempted by a soft-core pornographer. In have actually stolen this title from Jan, my girlfriend, who coined this memorable paraphrase as we flew home from California a few weeks ago. Her utterance was not meant to be complimentary. Brown has a terrible P.R. problem: ask the next fifty kids what their favorite flower is and I can pretty much guarantee you that almost all will opt for red, yellow, blue in pretty much that order. Likewise with adults--although depending on which circle you inhabit, the responses could be "mauve, chartreuse or taupe", or "green, lavender or pink"--we mature beyond the mere primary to the increasingly recondite in this long life of our's.

You cannot live on the steppe--or at least not happily--unless you come to fancy brown. Not just Cordovan like the shoe polish--but the entire broad spectrum--which I aver is as rich and diverse a range as any shade can proffer.  The picture above (and those below) were taken a few years ago on an autumnal hike at Roxborough State Park half an hour south of Denver more or less. Really--anywhere in the interior American West, much of Asia, Africa or the Pampas or Patagonia--or much of Australia for that matter--is basically a symphony of browns [not just in winter].

russet brown against the jaundiced brown of prairie grasses...and the dark brown green of the forest patches--the puffy white sky and blue stains of sky are the only things that can't be somewhat tinged with brown this time of year...

Blazing Star (Liatris punctata) comes in a silvery brown, with golden brown behind...let's check the Dictionary for synonyms: gives us

amber, auburn, bay, beige, bister, brick, bronze, buff, burnt sienna, chestnut, chocolate, cinnamon, cocoa, coffee, copper, drab, dust, ecru, fawn, ginger, hazel, henna, khaki, mahogany, nut, ochre, puce, russet, rust, sepia, snuff-colored, sorrel, tan, tawny, terra-cotta, toast, umber 

It's almost worth re-reading the list: not many color names are this evocative! I must admit each year I fall a little more in love with the many browns, and resign myself a little more willingly to winter's blandishments. Only thirty six shades, perhaps you can help come up with a few more?


  1. A consultation with my paint palette yields a few more: Vandyke's brown, raw sienna, raw umber, burnt umber, brown madder, mars violet, Imidazolone brown, and indian red. And if they are going to include puce I have a few gold tones I would include, too.

  2. Two more: pre- and post-green. - J Borland

  3. Thank you, both--for the suggestions (pre- and post: I love it!)...We're well on our way to 50! We will out shade the grays if they don't watch out...imidazolone is a new one for me:WOW! and indian red (awesome)...I love color.

  4. I love brown hues! In fact, I am heading outside to take pictures of the inland sea oats that are, in spring, apple green, but now are silvery beige -- very pretty.

  5. I will push the other end of the spectrum and suggest "straw". Very fun post, PK!

  6. Here are a few more from The Royal Horticultural Society Colour Chart: bronze yellow, golden brown BCC 74, golden brown CC 222, golden buff CC 221, Satinwood CC 220, Champagne BCC4, Biscuit CC 211, Beech Brown Bcc 69, Almond Shell BCC 67, Cinnamon BCC 204, Almond Shell CC 213, Cinnamon CC 212, Squirrel Brown CC 208, Hazelnut CC 207, Terra Cotta CC 196, Etruscan Orange CC 201, Mexican Tan CC 200, Peach Beige CC 193, Copper Brown Bcc 59. There are many, many more but without 'official' names, just alpha-numerical designations. J. Borland

  7. I think we have made our Fifty shades, thank to you, Jim (and Susan too!) and yes, you too Jocelyn (Straw definitely counts). Now excuse me while I go write that novel and get rich!

  8. parchment, papyrus.
    Browns are so important as you point out and not to be taken lightly/brownly.

    As for getting rich...the soft core porn pulp market is littered with the exhausted bodies and minds of people that found they tired of it and never crossed the "rich" finish line.

    Stimulating blog as usual.

  9. Thank you so much, Graham, for the additions: I love the crispy, creamy papery hues (which do appear in our landscapes...).

    I don't really intend to become a pornographer: perhaps I'm too much of a puritan? Or as my favorite writer once said, it invariably results in the "copulation of cliches". As for being rich monetarily--I shall be happy to avoid the poor house! My wealth resides in other realms.


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