Something odd happened to me in late 2017: I became enamored with the color orange.
That fall, I’d met someone, and orange was appearing everywhere, like some kind of hallucinatory sign. It sped by on the side of a truck, flowers in the park, the color of his surfboard. It appeared in past purchases: an orange skirt I bought in the spring, imagining it billowing in the wind, a tangerine wristlet made of pebbled leather. It appeared in poems I wanted to read aloud: Frank O’Hara’s lover in an orange shirt; Ada Limón’s ripening persimmons. I wanted to know what it meant, that I was seeing this color as if for the first time, and why it was suddenly all around me.
When I was in high school, in spring—sun out, the world thawing—my friends and I would walk from our campus down to the wetlands, a startling bit of wilderness in the middle of Beaverton, Oregon. There was a pond, and a dock that led out onto it, where you could sit in skinny jeans and kick your legs out over the water. On bright and windless days, the landscape on the other side of the pond was reflected in its surface as perfectly as in a mirror. I loved to sit on the dock and look at the trees dancing on the water, their colored foliage, their leaves precisely outlined against the sky. There was something about the tree line that felt particularly painterly—like something out of an American natural-history landscape, red alder and Oregon ash and western red cedar all lined up in a row.
It’s this feeling I return to when I consider the natural world—that awe at its specificity, its many names. It took me a long time to realize that all things are visible, even if my human eyes can’t see them: shingles on a roof, eyelashes on a mouse, leaves on a tree. Naming things is a means of recognizing them, and I’m drawn to flower guides and botanical illustrations the way a bookish child is drawn to a dictionary. I wanted to apply this same kind of naming to the color orange, to understand why it was all around me.