I’ve been thinking about the color yellow for months but have just realized that, in nature, in New England, it brackets the LONG season of winter. Our winters defy the boundaries of astrological seasons. Winter catches up with us in November and finds us still waiting for spring in April. The herald of these changes is yellow. 


Yellow: Noun Plural yellows

  1. Being of a bright saffron like color; of the color of gold or brass; having the hue of that part of the rainbow, or of the solar spectrum, which is between orange and green.

 Yellow is the last color that hangs on to the leaves just before they drop and the landscape becomes a monochromatic brown and gray. It is an emblematic front runner in the spring, announcing itself in fields and forests, yards and gardens.


Yellow is the most visible color of the spectrum. Peripheral vision is 2.5 times higher for yellow than for red. Yellow has a high light reflection value. Yellow gets and keeps your attention. This explains why it is used for cautionary signs, school busses and emergency vehicles.

OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety)  regulation 1926.200

Caution signs shall have yellow as the predominating color; black upper panel and borders: yellow lettering of “caution” on the back panel; and the lower yellow panel for additional sign wording. Black lettering shall be used for additional wording.


I am reminded of an experience that I had visiting our son, Dylan, with his sister Jennifer, in Bokaro Steele City, India in February 1989. Dylan was living in India as part of a Rotary International student exchange program. Jennifer and I were picked up at the train station in Patna, about 30 miles from where Dylan was living with his host family. We were all excited as we had not seen each other since late August.

Quite frankly the roads were terrible, much of them dirt, and they were filled with people walking, herding their animals, stray cattle, bullock carts, rickshaws, motorcycles, overloaded busses and automobiles going very fast. The family had hired a driver and car to come the 30 miles to get us.

Where the roads were paved, there were yellow lines to indicate lanes and no one was paying any attention to them. Everyone was driving as if the back of the car was on fire and they were trying to get away from it. There was a lot of swerving, narrow misses and the constant blaring of horns. Brakes were used sparingly if at all. I was horrified and kept gasping as I saw my life flashing before my eyes.

At one point Dylan leaned forward and softly said that I was making the driver nervous. I’m making HIM nervous? I asked why no one was staying in their own lane or on the proper side of the road. There was a murmur of comprehension. Oh, those lines are just for people who are LEARNING to drive. Once someone knew how to drive then the yellow lines were free to be ignored.

Good to know. Yikes.


Most depictions of the sun show it as being yellow in color. In fact, the super-heated surface of the sun is white and it is a scattering of particles in the atmosphere that makes it appear yellow from our vantage point.

Another common association with the color yellow is butter (and buttercups, do you like butter?). If butter is made from milk, which is white, why does it become yellow as part of the churning process? It is directly related to the fat content in butter. Cows eat grass and plants as part or most of their diet and the beta-carotene in the plants is stored in their fat. The pigment is carried into the milk. Butter is 80% fat and because of this the concentration of yellow beta-carotene causes butter to be yellow.

There is a dark side to yellow. It is used as an adjective to describe cowardice and can be an indication of illness- jaundice, pestilence and is the last stage of bruising. Urine is yellow and dark yellow urine is an indication of dehydration and some serious illnesses. Yellow pigments in paint are often made from heavy metals which are poisonous in high doses.


Then there is gold, a version of yellow. Gold is a dense, soft malleable metal found in rocks, veins and nuggets. It has long been seen to have intrinsic value and has been used in jewelry and as a monetary exchange through human history. It was first used as currency in 600 BC. Gold is currently considered a commodity and is priced and traded on an international market. The United States gave up the gold standard, that is currency backed up by actual holdings in gold, in 1933.

All that glitters is not gold, however, and there is a strong association between gold and disappointment in legend and lore. Goldie locks broke into and broke up the bear’s house without achieving much satisfaction. King Midas, of the golden touch, gained wealth but lost that which meant most to him. Rapunzel, of the golden hair, was lonely, Rumplestiltskin, greedy, the Israelites angered God and Moses with the golden calf, the goose that laid the golden eggs was stolen. Seems that money can’t, or mostly doesn’t, buy happiness.

We can safely rejoice in the gold of nature- goldenrod, goldfinches, golden swallowtails, golden retrievers, sunflowers, marigolds and the many versions of gold and yellow that delight the eye and make the world a little brighter and a little better.