As we move farther along the trail, it becomes more forested and blues are few. I bike along the trail and through culverts; the corrugated metal tunnels make me feel like I am inside a whale’s throat. I pass into an esophagus and become temporarily blind as the darkness abruptly swallows me. My eyes see like a maladjusted camera that takes backlit pictures and only the echoes of other trail users serve to steer me from trampling them. Just as quickly as I entered the throat I’m released into the winding trail. Here, the green of the woods overwhelms blue and I’m left only with glimpses of the latter: a flash of a cyclist’s navy sweatshirt, a corner of a blue tarp from a camp of someone who lives along the trail, and the ribbon of the creek as it carves its way alongside the path.
A few years ago, I heard a Radiolab episode about color, which told the story of William Gladstone, an academic who analyzed Homer’s writing and found some rather peculiar uses of color. Sheep were violet, the sea was “wine-dark,” red was used frequently, and there was not one mention of blue. After conducting further research, he found that this absence of blue held up throughout ancient texts across cultures (including the bible) and other colors were only gradually put to use later. He eventually concluded that in Homeric times humans perceived primarily black, white and red. Slowly, later generations gained the ability to see the rest of the spectrum of color.
As I move deeper into the woods, I pause for a morning alongside a turn in the creek and ruminate on Homer. The water starts to appear differently to my eye. The skin of the stream ripples with the colors of its surroundings and beneath that superficial skin is an inky substance. After being attuned to blue in a single-minded way since the start of our hike, the creek is no longer blue to my eyes. The sky, however, is unceasing. No matter how little of it I can see through the canopy and clouds, the sky will continue to be deep, penetrating blue.