Archived Story

The Color Grey

Published 2:31pm Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Editors Note: Rex Alphin is going to take a break during the month of August, and he will be back in September. In the meantime, his brother, Ruffin, will fill in for him while he is on break.

by Ruffin Alphin

My daughter had given me a book on it and there had been some interest in the subject, but it had never really crystallized until just recently. That’s why I started arriving on my front porch in the murky morning, waiting for the dawn and listening to the soloists. You don’t have to see to listen. The dominant song was coming from just down the street, up high, but I wasn’t sure where. Once the eastern glow sufficiently scattered the darkness, I started walking toward the pleasing melody, binoculars in hand. He was crooning relentlessly trying to wake up the world, like a trumpeter announcing the arrival of a dignitary. It was still a bit dim, but I could make out the creature and its color in the top of the tall holly tree. All dull grey with a dark spot on the crown of its head. With such a beautiful song I had expected to find a more striking bird — with brilliant feathers or at least a dazzling tail and a dramatic head to match the delightful notes. It wasn’t until I walked back and scanned the pages of my bird book that I concluded its species. It was a grey catbird, in the mockingbird family but without the radiant white feathers in its wings and tail.

Heat and humidity coalesce to create oppressive summer days in Southeast Virginia. The sunshine, so indispensable a sphere of energy, can wilt whole crops and wither mere mortals when unmixed. That’s why I loved this day. The sky overhead was slick with clouds; a sameness everywhere, like a big grey tent extending to every horizon. It served up such a sought after respite. But dull days mean skies without cobalt blue backdrop; without brilliant white cumulus cotton balls; without nonchalant cirrus wisps. Overcast skies mean dawns and dusks without fiery reds and glowing yellows and stunning scarlets, but it also means liberation from a tyranny of temperature.

When I inspected the old pictures, I was struck by my bright monopoly of brown hair. It wasn’t what I was now used to seeing. The pictures weren’t that old; just a few years ago and yet the difference was striking. It happened, it seemed, so suddenly and slyly. How does such a mass of vigorous brilliant brown so thoroughly give up the battle and flee from the scene, like fugitive soldiers deserting the fight? But wait; why this nostalgic protest?

I remembered and took solace. I like grey.

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