Opal and Ash of Roses, Cinnamon, Umber, and Dun…


Sudden the desert changes,
  The raw glare softens and clings,
Till the aching Oudtshoorn ranges
  Stand up like the thrones of Kings --

High clouds began moving in in mid-afternoon. They brought no rain, but the suggestion that sunset might be colorful. Or dull, if they were thick enough. By 1800 I started to guess that color might be coming, and by 1810 the eastern sky turned soft salmon pink. I grabbed hat, jacket, and stick and headed west.

Ramparts of slaughter and peril --
  Blazing, amazing, aglow --
'Twixt the sky-line's belting beryl
  And the wine-dark flats below.

The buildings and the trees in the neighborhood lost their detail, turning into black shapes as the color faded from the east, growing stronger and brighter in the west. the entire western sky, horizon to zenith, took on brilliant color and I raced, trying to get to an east-west street along the crest of a little ridge so I could see more clearly.

Royal the pageant closes,
  Lit by the last of the sun --
Opal and ash-of-roses,
  Cinnamon, umber, and dun.

The entire sky turned liquid, flowing, orange, like the draped and folded material of the girl’s dress in “Flaming June.” A huge sheet of rippled color glowed flame orange, with the black lace of tree branches adding contrast. Orange deepened, shifted to crimson, an entire sky burning like embers, one of those colors that nothing man has created can match, that cameras never quite catch.  Crimson shifted to metallic pink-gold, then faded into a rose-grey that lingered for another half hour, long enough to walk a mile or so and almost back to the house. The tiniest silver sliver of crescent moon hung behind the pink.

To the east, the clouds dimmed into a lavender-grey-rose shade once known as “Ash-of-roses.” And Kipling’s verses ran through my mind as they so often do. They are from “Bridge Guard in the Karoo” from the Boer War, but could describe the American West as well.

Ah, Kipling, how you could catch a place and a moment. It was one of those evenings more than worth the price of admission. A hint of breeze stirred the air, and I walked freely for the first time since I got sick last week, legs moving without pain, breathing easily, miles passing behind me without effort as the world darkened and colors shifted above. One of those evenings when I just have to get out, to see the night, to savor the beauty in this world.

The twilight swallows the thicket,
  The starlight reveals the ridge.
The whistle shrills to the picket --
  We are changing guard on the bridge.

(Few, forgotten and lonely,
  Where the empty metals shine --
No, not combatants-only
  Details guarding the line.)

We slip through the broken panel
  Of fence by the ganger's shed;
We drop to the waterless channel
  And the lean track overhead;

We stumble on refuse of rations,
  The beef and the biscuit-tins;
We take our appointed stations,
  And the endless night begins.

We hear the Hottentot herders
  As the sheep click past to the fold --
And the click of the restless girders
  As the steel contracts in the cold --

Voices of jackals calling
  And, loud in the hush between,
A morsel of dry earth falling
  From the flanks of the scarred ravine.

And the solemn firmament marches,
  And the hosts of heaven rise
Framed through the iron arches --
  Banded and barred by the ties,

Till we feel the far track humming,
  And we see her headlight plain,
And we gather and wait her coming --
  The wonderful north-bound train.

(Few, forgotten and lonely,
  Where the white car-windows shine --
No, not combatants-only
  Details guarding the line.)


For a glimpse into a little of the Karoo:http://karoospace.co.za/bridge-guard-in-the-karroo-rudyard-kipling/

5 thoughts on “Opal and Ash of Roses, Cinnamon, Umber, and Dun…

  1. I have visited that actual bridge in the Karoo. It’s a lonely, isolated place, where only the sheep and the wind live today. I could almost hear Kipling’s words in my head as I stood there. I also lived in Oudtshoorn for several years, and spent a lot of time driving for several hundred miles in all directions around the town. Lots of memories there.

  2. Thank you. That’s the perfect term for the color I’ve often seen in evening clouds, at Acadia. Half the time I simply stand at the camera, gazing in wonder as the palette changes shapes and shades with great drama and abrupt contrasts. Crimson and live orange embers, borne on a flare of deepest azure and brilliant yellow. Never the sunset itself, but backlight and swift falling twilight. Then wait as the patient sentinels and signposts of the night rise to their appointed posts.

    The dang tourists leave when the sun dips below the horizon. However, that’s only the prelude for the wonders to come.

  3. The best sunsets I’ve seen have been in Albuquerque. The best single one was in Tucson, on an overcast day, until the sun got below the edge of the cloud and illuminated the underside.

Comments are closed.