Trees along the Charles River, Boston

Ah, the color red. For several weeks that hue has been a touchstone for the unspoken for me, an indicator of another realm.

It started with the trees. What a fall this has been in New England, with the color coming on with an orchestrated polyphony. The red leafed trees have been particularly spectacular. Every weekend since late September, we have been tracking the slow shift in color of each red leafed tree along the bike path on the Charles River, a route that runs from the Science Museum near downtown Boston to just a few miles from Route 128 in Waltham.

Our passion begged a question: As beautiful as the reds are, why are there significantly more yellows and golds?

Turns out the reason is ancient and antediluvian: Insects like yellow leaves better. And while red leafed trees are less prevalent than the golds and yellows in North America, the ratio is even smaller in Europe.

According to Zahra Hirji in Earth Magazine:

Deciduous trees everywhere — Asia, Europe and North America alike — probably would have developed this autumn red pigmentation change to avoid predation…But things began to change about 35 million years ago in the Northern Hemisphere, as the climate began to cool and glaciations set in. Trees and insect populations migrated and changed in response to the glaciations. And since then, the scientists say, Europe’s leaves have been predominantly yellow, whereas trees in East Asia and eastern North America have had the range of red hues.

Even with a logical explanation, the reds have a presence that has grandeur and mystery for me.

Image from the Red Book, by Carl Jung

Another adventure in the specter of red: Currently on display at the Rubin Museum in New York is Carl Jung’s personal journal, the Red Book. From the New York Times:

In 1914, after falling out of favor with Freud, C.J. Jung lost his mind. Some scholars say he lost it by design, cultivating a psychic crisis to plumb the depths of his unconscious. The “Red Book,” an illustrated manual of the Swiss shrink’s inner world, is the product of all that plumbing. The leather-bound volume was considered so bizarre — and dangerous — that Jung’s heirs kept it under lock and key until 2007.

For others, the Red Book is the “most influential unpublished work in the history of psychology,” the Holy Grail of the unconscious.”

Regardless of your point of view on Jung’s state of mind, the existence of such a personal and massive assemblage of writing and imaging is extraordinary. In addition to the original book on display in a glass case, the Rubin Museum is exhibiting facsimiles of a number of Jung’s mandalas, illustrations and drawings. These intricate, brightly colored images are not an art statement as much as they are an invitation into the very personal iconography of one of the century’s most influential thinkers.

[Note: Accompanying the exhibition is a very ambitious lecture series called The Red Book Dialogues. Well known artists and thinkers are paired with psychoanalysts and asked to personally respond to the painted “dreamscapes” in the book. The list of participants is impressive— from Alice Walker to David Bryne to Cornel West. For more information, visit the Rubin Museum site.]


On our last autumn ride along the Charles River last weekend, I kept thinking about a quote from the Red Book:

The knowledge of the heart is in no book and is not to be found in the mouth of any teacher, but grows out of you like the green seed from the dark earth.

It was a crisp and beautiful day, the angled light filtered through the yellows, golds and reds. We rode to the end of the path in Waltham (far from the epicenter of Sunday bikers closer to town) where the river is slow and wide. Its presence felt primordial. Then, out of nowhere, we heard the distinctive drone of a bagpipe. There along the water’s edge stood a lone figure, his arms rhythmically bellowing the soft bag in his arms.

We stopped to listen as his sounds filled the empty air. There is a poignant longing in those notes, one of the reasons why the bagpipe is the instrument most associated with funereal solemnity and honored remembrance. It was also a fitting aubade to the filtered light of autumn. Like Jung’s knowledge of the heart, that moment of sound in the air on a crisp November morning was not of book or mouth. A green seed, from the dark earth, but of what I do not know.