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.
These first two days on the trail, I find myself between two expanses of blue, the dome of the sky and the bowl of the water. More blue than I’ve been around for weeks. These two limitless expanses of material cannot be contained or held. They are formless and far-reaching. How can I quantify color? I have decided to map every blue that I see as we hike along Chester Creek, and the more I mark on my list, the more I see the number of blue man-made objects outstretches the number of blue things in nature. The wave of the sky and wash of the West Chester Lagoon are grand, but they only number two. There are so many blue articles of clothing that I stop counting and noting specific garments.
Azure. Cerulean. Cyan. Cobalt. Indigo. Navy. Beryl. Sapphire. Teal. Turquoise. Ultramarine. Sky. Sea. Blue-gray. Blue-green. Royal blue. Electric blue. As I turn my eyes unceasingly towards blue objects, I find the limits of language. I note the variations in tone and hue and feel the inadequacy of words. I thought there were so many names for blue and yet I am quickly at the end of my list and I stumble over how to locate their differences within language. Each spot, swathe, and stripe of blue is its own color and yet I arrive at a moment when I stop trying to differentiate them all. They are beautiful as a mass, in all their variation.