Who knows what lurks beneath a snowy blanket?
“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape– the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.” Andrew Wyeth, American artist who died in 2009.
This post was published a year ago; however, I have edited it to reflect new thoughts about our Canadian winters.
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“Snowbound”, 9×12 ” acrylic on gallery wrapped canvas.
While painting and thinking about what lies beneath a snowy blanket, I remembered literature I studied long ago in university. Many authors have written about the cold Canadian north. The first settlers arriving in Canada were worried about surviving the bitter winters of this foreign land. They wrote letters accurately describing their hardships.
Later, Canadian authors used the cold winter to hastily dispatch characters in their novels. Margaret Atwood (Alias Grace) describes this preoccupation with nature and the cold in Survival, her groundbreaking study of Canadian literature.
However, other authors have described winters elsewhere. A Russian winter, for example, is not so different from a Canadian one. After all, our countries share our Arctic waters.
I have been rereading The Red Scarf by Kate Furnivall. She describes one of Stalin’s labour camps in 1933. Set in Siberia, Furnivall describes the taiga forest. Her account would be just as accurate for some areas of Canada in winter. Here are a few excerpts:
- The track threaded its way through unremitting taiga forest, so dark it was like night inside, the slender columns of pine trees standing like Stalin’s sentinels overseeing the march.
- She could feel it (the forest) breathing down her neck like a huge unwelcome presence, so that when sudden soft sounds escaped from the trees as layers of snow slid from the branches to the floor, it made her shiver. It was as though the forest were sighing.
I love these descriptions because they do capture the sights and sounds of the Canadian forest too.
In the city, we never get to see aurora borealis, but back home, in northern Ontario, the starry night sky is lit with shimmering greens and pinks and blues.
I could not help but think of home while painting this scene. I attempted to show the colours of the northern lights in the sky in my painting. Then I added the reflection of those colours from the sky in the expanse of snow on the lake.
The land in northern Ontario is rugged and beautiful with myriad pristine lakes and vast forests. I was inspired by my memory of skating and snowmobiling on frozen lakes and rivers. These days, we snowshoe during the day which is quite a different experience than being out in the forest at night. And even though we are enjoying the solitude of nature, we are always aware that the city is nearby.
Of course, there is a loneliness to the land up north, the feeling that the silence and the cold are harbingers of death. Beneath a snowy blanket especially at night, we have a feeling that something lies waiting…lurking in the shadows.
But if one can get past that sense of foreboding, then there is much to appreciate.
The fresh smell of the woods, the invigorating crisp air, the sparkle and crunch of the crusty snow near the shore all add to the enjoyment of an evening spent outdoors in the north.