Winter Trees On The Horizon
Black silhouettes of winter trees on the horizon appear to be on fire in the far distance. Cutting into the dawn like a red-hot iron sickle, the searing crescent reveals itself to be the morning sun. After a few minutes, the yellow iridescence fades to a perfect crimson circle just free of the branches at the tops of the leafless aspens. Cold blue steam rises from the icy lake in front of the forest line, licking the morning sun, then shifting sharply, disappearing into the dry December air.
Even in the coldest season the far away heat of the sun could not be denied. It was of momentary comfort to her as she forgot about the slowing circulation in her feet. She had stopped for too long. Ice will claim what does not move in deep snows such as these.
She let out her breathe and watched the moist white clouds vaporize not far from her face. In the distance she heard the echo of trees popping across the frozen water. Someone not familiar with this place might mistake it for gunfire. Crows were circling above the blue-white field she was standing in.
The sun works quickly to break the cold morning and soon long purple shadows began to shrink from the shimmering snow, which now took on the appearance of a field of tiny stars that had forgotten to go with the night sky. The squint inducing light was deceptive. It was still only about five degrees and the wind sauntered in every few minutes to make her question why she ever left the temperate climate of her childhood.
The air was so dry that everything was cracking: Trees, lips, skin; and now the masking tape holding together the split leg of her traveling easel. She would have to order a new one eventually. This was a portable Best and had lasted her five years. Not bad for the elements she had subjected it to: Six inches stuck in the mud during spring, six inches sinking in the water during summer, easel cartwheels several times a day in windy autumn and frozen to the lake repeatedly in winter only to be unbound by her violent yanking. This finally produced the crack in the back leg.
Today she was continuing the sketches of the western lake shore. When the sun rose above the treetops to the east, the light would intensify and shine a grand spotlight onto the opposite edge of the icy lake. Something about how the colors contrasted sharply had caught her eye. Rust reds against warm Cerulean blues, gold shimmers alongside muted violet and indigo caverns; it was gorgeous and rare for a winter scene to be so vibrant. But as any good observer knows, nothing is what it seems on the surface. The best colors reveal themselves to those willing to wait for their arrival.
After setting up her easel, and arranging the pastels and tools in her tray, she picked up a stick of crimson and waited for the sun to move into place. Soon she would know when to start. She would have a brief time to work before the colors changed with the light. This creative window always seemed to arrive too late and leave too early. Often an hour would pass where she was sure she only breathed twice.
Suddenly the colors shifted and she began to quickly work the surface of the paper. Despite her cracked fingers she worked without gloves so she could feel the lines she was making. Using her hands, a chamois clothe, felt, cotton tips, paint thinner, knuckles, bamboo stick, pencil, the ends of her hair, charcoal―anything to achieve the shapes and lines forming between her and the landscape she was dancing with. Like an addict she always chased the first high she felt when she created something that she knew was truly great. Sometimes she would get close to that feeling, and other times she would feel intense withdrawal from absence of genius. But it did not matter. She would always be back to try again. There was no choice in the matter.
As the morning shifted into noon, she resigned that another day would be needed to finish the morning drawing. Digging into her portfolio she quickly put the drawing away and replaced it with the early afternoon sketch and began to work quickly again. There would be two more sketches before the sun began to fall in front of her.
Only when she realized that the good light had left for the day did she calmly pack away the pastels and wipe her hands of the pigmented oil on a well used rag. Pulling out a thermos of hot coffee, she sipped the scalding liquid, thinking of the day and watching the sun fall into the west. The morning drawing was still going well despite the short amount of time spent on it today.
Folding up the easel she heard the owls announcing the coming night. At the base of the same trees she had watched the morning sun burn, she now saw the soothing evening moon rise. The long shadows fell across her back from the trees on the western shore and the stars rose from the snow to the sky. She would have to move quickly now to not freeze. Lingering for just one more moment she turned to walk back following the same steps she had made that morning in the snow. She hoped tomorrow would be another clear day.