Alaska's Christmas Colors

AT a time of year when the eye is bombarded by items unnaturally red and green, this photograph is refreshing. Central to the image are its alluring scarlet berries - small in size but big in color. Monitor photographer Neal J. Menschel committed them to film when he saw how they brought out the greenness of the nearby Alaskan forest.

Uncomplicated in hue and detailed in composition, this shot, taken while Mr. Menschel was backpacking on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, captures the entirety of a natural setting. ``To me, it is an accurate symbol or summation of Alaskan coastal terrain ... rich and lush,'' Menschel says.

The handful of round red berries invites admirers to consider the intricate surfaces and shades of green surrounding it. Individual boughs of spruce join to form the verdant background, highlighting the full, almost-symmetrical leaves of the lighter green plant called Oplopanax horridus - devil's club. There is irony in that name, and Menschel says it gives the photograph special meaning: The beauty of the plant and its red fruit belies the thorns it carries.

But the botanical subject matter is not what prompted Menschel to take this picture on his Alaskan hike almost two decades ago. Instead, his decision was based on the lighting, color, and texture of the scene, factors that he says determine many photographs of nature.

For me, the presence of such elements elicits memories of camping in the spruce-filled mountains of Colorado, and of the tree my family transplanted from that state to our yard in Nebraska. Most of all, I am struck by how this image testifies to the natural harmony in which these two presently overworked colors live.

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