“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” -Carl Reiner
"You can't get too much winter in winter." -Robert Frost
Can you relate to one, or both of these quotes? Together, they pretty well sum up my own conflicted relationship with winter. I love the dance of falling snowflakes, but shoveling, not so much. The puffy birds clustering at the feeder are a delight, as are the neighborhood kids squealing as they sled down a small hill as if it were the Matterhorn. On the other hand, hooking up jumper cables in the still-dark morning and the "burn" of thawing fingers are majorly unpleasant, even dangerous. So, of course, during a recent cold snap when temperatures hovered around -1F (-18C), half-crazed with cabin fever, I bundled in appropriate layers. Finishing the ensemble with a scarf to cover my nose and cheeks, I'd convinced myself that there is no "bad" weather, only inappropriate clothing.
The wind gnawed hard at the tiny bit of exposed skin around my eyes as I squinted my way across the prairie toward the woods. Once in the protective shelter of trees, the immediate stillness turned my attention to the snow squeaking obnoxiously underfoot. Squeaking snow is a phenomena that occurs when it's below 14F (-11C). So today's thin blanket of snow, at a frigid -1, squawked raucously with my every step. I made repeated, fruitless efforts to walk soundlessly. Oh well. Stealthiness will not be part of today's mission.
I spied a deer path cutting through understory saplings. It was crossed by a multitude of racoon tracks leading to a gnarly tree. Following an imaginary path upward with my eyes, I spotted a hollow 20 feet up and knew who was inside. Over the next hill, an untrampled ground burrow, its dark outline barely discernible through the snow, brought visions of snuggled bunnies, cozy and warm in their grassy, fur-lined warren. Just steps away, I noticed coyote tracks, felt an involuntary shiver, and hoped the bunny rabbits stayed put.
The stories the earth reveals are enchanting- even in the cold of winter. Walking in wild places as part of my daily art practice piques my curiosity, and builds a palette of musings, colors, and motion. It also helps keep me fit and, especially in the winter, it tests my mettle.
As lovely as this particular set of encounters was, you will not see me intentionally paint about it. My artwork is not about re-creation of a specific landscape or memory. I have a camera for that. A painting, for me, is a a synergetic, non-objective bundle of individual moments. Since each moment is built upon prior moments, perceived differently by each of us, it leaves room for interpretation and subconscious banter. So in this sense, you are the one who finishes my painting when you view it. Just like you get to imagine the fate of the aforementioned invisible bunnies. Unless I learn otherwise on my next walk in their woods.
You can see more of my available work here, and Seeing Time 364 (Galloping Horse), here.
Artist and naturalist Michelle Louis has a vigorous curiosity about the natural world. She walks with intention in wild places at least 1,200 miles yearly, much of it on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. She makes art documenting her experience along the way and in her studio.