Rainy days are magical. Swaddled by the silvery mist, the grey-like sound of the hoot owl haunted the coastal live oak and eucalyptus forest of the East Bay hills near Oakland. Enchanted by the muted colors and subdued sounds we hiked the muddy Laurel Canyon trail. Twelve hundred feet above the sea promises a fair prospect. But reaching the hilltop, we found Wildcat Peak cloaked in a thick woolly rain cloud. Playfully, I imagined the peaks marking the compass points obscured by inclemency: Mount St. Helena (North), Mount Diablo (East), Mountain Hamilton (South), and Mount Tamalpais (West). Few hikers joined us on this cold, leaden day, but we found great warmth in our companionship and the grey solitude.
The artist and writer David Batchelor in The Luminous and the Grey surfaced the painter Vincent Van Gogh’s thoughts about the colour grey. Writing to his brother Theo in the 1880s, Van Gogh came to grey’s defence pointing to the “endless variations of greys, red-grey, yellow-grey, blue-grey, green-grey, orange grey, and purple grey…..it is impossible to say, for instance, how many green greys there are, it varies endlessly.” Continuing on this theme, Batchelor quotes the Bauhaus painter and color theorist Johannes Itten “[grey] is mute, but easily excited to thrilling resonances.” Batchelor opines “a small amount of any colour can and does transform grey…..into something subtle, complex and even thrilling.”
The Japanese poet Matsuo Basho describes this atmosphere – the solitude of grey – best with his haiku:
Winter solitude —
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.