In honor of the snow they’re forecast to get back home …
Once I had a landscape to paint. Streaked with long-named roads and dotted with maple trees tapped with metal buckets, the snow-covered hills served as a backdrop to the only life I’d ever loved.
There were snow-covered conversations among snow-covered men, wearing snow-covered hunting boots below snow-covered jeans. They did not mention the snow when they spoke in sun-bright diners, where they ate nothing and drank smooth ceramic cup after smooth ceramic cup of diesel-strength coffee. They spoke of family, sports and double work shifts.
Some would leave these sun-bright diners on snowmobiles. Most would leave in two-year-old trucks lined with salt residue, mud and rust that used to be salt residue. Their tires would spin in the parking lot slush as they found the two car-cleared tracks to follow in the road covered, plowed and blown with dirty snow. Some would hit the accelerator harder than necessary – knowingly – and crank the steering wheel toward the shoulder of the road, sliding the vehicle into a fishtail from which they were proud to recover.
When they got home to places like Ischua and Machias, they split firewood using petunks and mauls without going inside. The section of each man’s yard reserved for this was snowless and muddy – matted and trampled from hours of petunk-swinging and maul-driving. When he finally went inside, he did so with an armload of firewood through the basement to avoid the only wife he’d ever have because snowy, slushy and muddy boots were not allowed in the house.
The landscape I once had to paint went on like this. Its snow always snowed and trucks always trucked. It never, ever stopped .
Until one day the maples turned magnolia, the snow melted to ocean and bitter coffee gave way – on occasion – to sweet tea. I could not recall the sight of my breath. I did not remember Sinatra. I forgot the taste of pork roasts and sauerkraut and Friday night fish frys and warm Canadian beer.
Men were more jovial and less devoted to work and most committed to their families. Their wives viewed them as heroes. They went out for dinner when not at their parents’ for supper; they greeted a dozen or more persons whenever they were out. On occasion, one of those persons was I – a complete, former guest.
What a difference in these two landscapes.
I yearned, upon this transition, for weekends alongside a man-made lake, Saturdays at toothless town square festivals and summers that waited until Thanksgiving to fade. I desired a pontoon boat; I learned it was okay to eat beef on Friday. The hills and faces and ugliness and humanity I eventually wanted to paint oozed with color and richness and vibrancy – and townfuls of words people wanted to hear.
I still have a landscape to paint.