True Colors

In the kitchen cabinet convenient to our countertop coffeemaker (I’m on a roll with the letter C today), we keep a couple of large mugs; souvenirs from the San Diego Zoo. Identical in size and shape, both mugs have images of animals on them. More importantly, one mug is light blue while the other is bright red. For this reason and no other, I place the blue mug at the front of the cabinet and the red mug further back. My preference is the blue one.

If these same mugs were in your kitchen cabinet, which would you choose?  What if I added a green mug and a purple mug – would your choice be just as clear?  It should be, since we all have favorite colors.  Unless we’re colorblind we concur when something is blue, or something is red.  We even agree when something blue is “pretty” (say, the summer sky) or something red is not (say, the heart of a forest fire).  But that’s just preference by association.  Favorite colors are part of our DNA.

I’ll take “green”

As far back as I can remember my favorite color is green.  I also like blue and purple, but if I only get a single Skittles make it green.  With board games, I choose the green pieces. With my wardrobe, I own several green shirts (but no red ones).  My wife and I once owned – one after the other – a green van, followed by a green sedan, followed by a green mini-van; even though the more popular vehicle colors are white, silver, black, and dark grey.  It may be no coincidence the colors of my alma mater are blue, gold… and green.

Hello, Marilyn!

Don’t let the numbers influence your choice but 35% of Americans prefer blue while 16% prefer green, 10% purple, and 9% red.  Orange, yellow, and brown sit together at the back of the bus.  Also, gentlemen may prefer blondes, but gentlemen definitely prefer blondes in red.  To heterosexual men at least, women in red draw more romantic attention than any other color.

Infants show a preference for color as early as twelve weeks old.  That’s hardly an age where you associate colors with material things.  Toddlers show a preference for pink and blue regardless of sex (and cool colors over warm), but choose yellow over both of them – perhaps owing to association with the sun, flowers, and other “happy” things.

Here’s where favorite colors get interesting.  At five years of age you begin to associate colors with more than just “things”.  You associate with feelings and states of mind as well.  Consider the table above.  My preference for green suggests a good/bad combination of traits.  Immodestly I like to think I have good taste.  Unquestionably I put a premium on my health.  Envy?  Sure, every now and then.  Eco-friendly?  Nope, not really.

Red and blue make for better arguments.  The “lust”, “power”, and “speed” associated with red explain why it’s the color of choice for sports cars, and why red uniforms statistically improve performance in certain sports (think Tiger Woods).  All five blue traits explain why the color is so prevalent in the American workplace (and primary in the logos of standard brands like Ford, Facebook, and IBM).  Even the traits of violet/purple make sense: the color most associated with royalty.

The Rose of Temperaments

Our desire to interpret the meaning of favorite colors has been around a long time.  The Rose of Temperaments is a wheel-like image from the late eighteenth century, matching colors to character traits and occupations.  See what your color says about you.  If green goes to my very soul, the rose is strikingly accurate.  I can make a case for every trait in the list of phlegmatic. My tendencies are also more introverted than extroverted.  The rose gives me reasons for envying red, yellow, or blue (and reasons for not), but I can’t deny it: I am literally defined by my favorite color.

Speaking of the basic colors, we also favor color names. Mother Nature’s rainbow just doesn’t do it anymore.  In a recent remodel project my wife and I chose the paint color “Cocoa Whip” over “Havana Coffee” and “Wild Truffle”; when in fact we were simply choosing a shade of brown.  In product tests, participants shown swatches of the same color consistently preferred the one with the most elegant name.

Closing comment on my favorite color green.  You do know what they say about green M&M’s, don’t you? The aphrodisiacal effects (urban legend) are explained by the color’s association with fertility.  However, the better story comes from 1976, when the FDA banned the chemical “red dye #2” and red M&M’s temporarily departed the production line.  Rumor had it the reds were the real aphrodisiacs, employees were pocketing them straight from the line, and the whole red dye #2 story was a cover-up.  Red, green, whatever the color; they all taste good to me.  Even the brown ones, which testers swear taste more like chocolate than any other color.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”, and Snopes.com.

Caring O’ the Green

My back lawn stretches north to south along the edge of my house, and half again as far to the west. When I look out the window, it’s an expanse of brilliant green in every direction; about 2,000 square feet by my step-off calculations. I could place the Emerald City at its edge and things would look even better than with the field of poppies. I should invite Dorothy & Toto over for a cup of coffee.  Or dress like the Wizard’s guards in one of those head-to-toe outfits while I mow.  Even my lawn tractor is green.

It wasn’t always jade thumbs for me. Growing up, a gardener took care of my parent’s lawn (an even bigger carpet than my backyard Oz). Instead of mowing, trimming, mulching, aerating – all better options in hindsight – my brothers and I commanded weed and leaf patrol. Endless amounts of both packed into endless amounts of extra-large black lawn-n-leaf bags. One summer we helped my dad install a sprinkler system; everything from a rented trencher to miles of PVC pipe. It was a good education in plumbing, but I didn’t learn much about lawn care.  Er – change that up – I didn’t care to learn much about lawn.

When my wife and I bought our first house, caring o’ the green became a proviso, if only to be good neighbors in such close quarters.  We lived on a postage stamp lot in a small neighborhood just south of San Francisco.  (If the lot really was a postage stamp, imagine the size of the front lawn.)  I could mow and edge in a cool fifteen minutes.  Looking back, I get a little nostalgic for my first lawn mower.  It was the simple bare necessities – just a rotating blade and a couple of wheels, connected on up to a pair of hand grips.  The engine was me, and there was neither seat nor steering wheel.  No matter – my “push reel mower” worked just fine when you’re talking postage stamps.

Moving to Colorado, I graduated to a bigger lawn and a gas mower.  A yoga class should include the lunge-like move required to start a gas mower.  Brace with one leg, deep knee bend with the other, arm extended forward (but not locked!), fingers closed lovingly around the cord handle, deep breath, and… PULL!  Sometimes the engine wouldn’t start after several PULLS on an early morning, adding colorful words to my vocabulary.

After that, we moved to the ranch we live on now.  Mr. 2,000-square-feet beckoned out back that first summer, but with my smallish mower I pushed about a five-mile spiral to get him cut (my neighbor still smirks at me today… “city boy”).  Too many years later I graduated to a John Deere ride-on: seat, steering wheel, drink/snack holder – the works.  I even have the matching JD hat so I look like I know what I’m doing.

DO I know what I’m doing?  DO I care enough about my lawn?  Sometimes I wonder, as in a recent Wall Street Journal article, which story-tells lawn care at a whole different level.  Some of my neighbors out there, in what can only be called obsession, take scissors to their grass or pluck the blades by hand.  Others use a vacuum to clean up the scraps.  Still others attach a roller to their mower for a finishing flourish – those light/dark stripes normally reserved for baseball fields.  If I too want to be “extreme” I can purchase the video, “How to Dominate Your Neighbor’s Lawn”.

No, I’m not that guy.  No scissors, no vacuums, no videos.  I’m content to just putt-putt-putt every-other-week spirals around my green, with the occasional hand-rake of the trimmings.  I’ll even admit to using a lawn service to hold back the weeds.  It looks acceptable.  The Wizard of Oz would probably approve and that’s good enough for me.