Sweetgum, slow fuse Posted on January 2, 2013

The garden could hardly be more monochrome this afternoon if it were a black and white photograph. When the sun sets there will probably be a gleam on the horizon, but now, from the grey fish in the grey water to the black tracery of trees there is a cold consistency of tone. I can enjoy it as one does an engraving.


Until I turn round and see the only warm colours, almost shocking in their contrast,  and their isolation. One is the line of

red-stemmed willows, shockheads of dull orange in this light, an ember glow rather than a flame. And here, just by the temple, a liquidambar with an extraordinarily slow fuse. In autumn it was merely less green; a sulky colour hard to name. Now, still in full leaf, it is the full motley, from orange-scarlet to the brilliant black-maroon you see on certain spindles. Its name is Palo Alto, so California is its home, (and there they call it a sweetgum – why don’t we?)


Why it waits so long, and needs a week of frosts and four weeks of rain (and endures the shortest days) to arrive at its moment of glory I can’t imagine. It could hardly be more arresting under a California sun than it is in our sombre January landscape.

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