I’m painting snowscapes out of memory. I sit in my studio in Southern California with the bzzzt of hummingbirds flashing by, the dull fog rising and sun glimmering through. But I’m not here.
I’m in winter, trudging across the slopes in New Hampshire. Former family land, once farmed by my blood. I stroke the brush laden with blue, thinking about the Grandfather I barely met but heard in stories, dropping his rare word, ranging the acreage he ran with his brothers. Winter meant time to wander, for him. I see him walking the crusty hills, cutters and pruning knife on his belt, using the rise of snow to reach the tops of his apple trees and clipping a branch here, shaping a bough there, cultivating the trees for harvests to come. I see his shadow reaching cobalt across the shimmer of glazed snow, hear the crunch of his snowshoes as he steps back, assessing through narrowed eyes in his cold-stung weathered face under the time-bleached cap.
Years later, long after his death, as a teen I would escape the too long silences of the rooms and my own dulled winter drowse to breathe the cold clarity of the wind upon my grandfather’s hills. I would pause and look over his trees, the branches grown unwieldy without his care. Sold to strangers long ago, my only heritage the right to pass, the right to imagine.
Now, decades later, why should I be still returning, raising my eyes to the pure curve of snow against sky and the hedgy branches russet against both? I find myself looking down on the old onion field covered by a sweep of deep snow, sun in tree branches, the sweep of sky-colored shadows as day slips away. At eventide, I stand in a shiver, the blue shadows on blue snow, and the rose-flushed sky lying that there still might be warmth somewhere.
Why should I be going back after all this time, what is the haunting to which I now respond?
Why do I still live here, when I haven’t returned in years?