On Color

Golden-crowned Kinglet

If you want to be happy in Seattle, you must learn to love the color gray. This is especially true in winter, when it is perfectly possible to lose the sun in November and not get it back again until March. By that time, most Seattleites have forgotten what the sun even looks like. We squint at that strange glowing ball in the sky and then head as fast as we can to the drug store to buy a pair of sunglasses to rid ourselves of the pain of the glare. Ow, we say, grateful that we don’t have to live in L.A., where the sun never seems to take a break.

For us northwesterners, there is great beauty in the gray light of a November morn. Somehow the silvery mists of clouds make every spot of color in the surrounding landscape glow the brighter. Who needs sun when the spirit can be warmed by the reds, oranges, and yellows of a perfect fall day?

This morning was a case in point. A flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets came foraging through the shrubs around the Wedding Rock to brighten the world with their energy and their colorful feathers. Golden-crowned Kinglets are tiny songbirds that forage for insects along the bare branches of bushes and trees. They are graced with black-and-white racing stripes on their heads, topped by a bright crown of golden feathers.

In the flock were two males who apparently had it in for each other. I think they must have been quarreling before they ever got to the Wedding Rock, because they were already all worked up when I first noticed them. Golden-crowned Kinglets don’t have loud voices — they sound like far-away high-tension wires to me — but these two were piping insults at each other as loudly as they could.

Finally, they decided the best way to settle their differences was with a duel. So the first male put his beak down and shined his golden crown at his rival. Without hesitation, the rival took up the gantlet and shined HIS crown right back, upping the ante by spreading out his little golden feathers to reveal a spark of fiery orange in the middle of all that gold. That seemed to deflate the first duelist because he put away his crown, backed up a step, and then flew to the next branch, where he began searching for bugs, leaving the field of battle to the rival.

There is something utterly charming in watching two creatures battle by shining their heads at each other. If only we humans could do the same.