Having found lists of obscure/obsolete color names and rounded out the alphabet with a few simply-charming-to-me colors, each day, I’ll introduce a color and a swatch I’ve painted and then write about whatever comes to mind as I muse about the day’s color. Fair warning, my mind is a non-linear traveler, so who knows where my contemplations will take us.
F is for… Fuliginous – soot-colored
The term originated in the late 15th century as a descriptor of a thick and noxious vapor, but the episode of The Crown about the Great Smog of 1952 made quite an impression on me and I think I’ll always associate soot with it.
My mind goes in a lot of directions when I muse about soot. First up are Susuwatari, the anime creatures known as Soot Sprites. They wander around empty houses and leave dirt and dust in their wake. I’m not entirely sure these are the beings that sneak in and leave dust bunnies in my house, but they could be.
When pulling together my annual proposed books to-be-read list, I always include at least one re-telling of a fairytale. Recommended by a friend, this year I included Kingdom of Ash and Soot, which is a spin on the Cinderella tale and written by C. S. Johnson. I’m also interested in reading a children’s book Sootface which is an Ojibawa version of the Cinderella tale.
Thinking about soot also reminds me of crows and ravens. It’s fascinating to me how many origin stories have them start out one color (usually white) and then often being burnt or covered in soot, thus being changed to black. The Greeks, the Norse, and the Chinese all have interesting tales, but I think my favorite is from the Lanape people – Rainbow Crow.
I’m particularly fascinated by the color transformation, and I always have both a white feather and a black feather on one of my altars. You’d be right to think that I love feathers, and finding them feels like a cosmic wink reminding me all is well. You might recognize the black feather as a gift from Crow, a beloved totem. But you might have to look at me a bit more deeply to understand that I hold both the black and white feather as a reminder of balance, wholeness, and unity consciousness. And you definitely have to lean in closely if you want to know that I also carry these feathers as a reminder of my mother, and how perhaps this year it will be time to tell the story of White Crow Speaks.
Soot also makes me think about art. For a while, I enjoyed experimenting with touching flame to paper, allowing the paper to burn a bit. But I’m also reminded of the beautiful work of artist and naturalist Gregory Colbert – his ongoing Ashes and Snow project. If you’re not familiar with it, I encourage you to check it out.
While I’m not sure anyone can be convinced of the value of soot, I do like these words from author Junichiro Tanizaki: “Yet for better or worse we love things that bear the marks of grime, soot, and weather, and we love the colors and the sheen that call to mind the past that made them.”
What about you? Ever been bothered by soot sprites? Find depth and beauty in fuliginous shades? Are you as big a fan of Crows and Ravens as I am? Do tell – you know I’d love to hear.