On the day after the storm the air is cold and bright. A man enters a forest and wades through drifts along a stream. He stays alert to the murmur of the wind and the sound of clumps of snow falling from branches. He smells the fragrance of the cedars and listens to the cries of a hawk, but he is thinking of William Blake, trudging over sooty cobblestones under the sulfurous skies of London, imagining a vision of the “World in a Grain of Sand.”
The dogs, two dark silhouettes against the snow, frolic in the drifts. They pause to look back at him. He pauses too, leans against a pine and takes a mechanical pencil and a small book out of his parka. He draws quickly: shapes of snow, the curves of the far bank, ripples of light, like coins floating on the current, the large stone in the stream, like an altar under its white mantle,. His fingers grow stiff and the lead keeps breaking. He scribbles, “cerulean and pink shadows” and ”ochre water” and draws arrows to show the direction of light.
Suddenly the light fades and it’s too dark to see the book or the trees or the river. Where are the dogs? The wind burns his face. Then the trees and snow come back into focus. He hears a sound he can’t define, a choir? Wind, shadows, stone, water, snow, trees all fuse together — a chorus of light. Here is here! Here is there? Is everywhere? Is now?
The dogs nudge his legs, pulling him back into himself. He fumbles in the snow for the pencil he has dropped. His legs tremble. He feels scared and indescribably happy. He follows the dogs on their way to nowhere in particular, shivered by the cold and by his glimpse of a Grain.
Escombros – Pencil and watercolor/paper – 7 x 11 inches.
“We love it when artists come to live here in Spain, especially in Valencia, because our city is so beautiful. But most artists paint beautiful things. Why do you paint ugly things, like piles of escombros?” The word means wreckage, debris, and I had heard the question several times. For most Spaniards, escombros are an eyesore they would rather ignore. So why would anyone bother to draw them?
I like escombros because of the challenge: the shapes are complex and difficult to draw. You have to slow down and pay close attention, so drawing becomes a form of meditation. What struck me about this particular scene was not only the sad wreckage of a place where people used to live, but also its contrast with the church across the street. During the hours it took me to complete this little sketch, I found it impossible not to consider that the present will soon enough become the past and that one day the church itself would finally become its own pile of escombros.
The Road and The Sky – Acrylic/paper – 18 x 24 inches.
When we were children, my little friends and I would talk about what we would become when we grew up. No butcher, baker or candlestick-maker for us — (and no one wanted to be a cop or a fireman or the president of the United States). No: in our future there was a race car driver, a parish priest, a millionaire, a pilot flying jet aircraft against the Communists and a star center fielder for the Chicago White Sox.
Because I knew they would laugh at me, I dared not say that when I grew up I wanted to be a tree. I would grow tall and slender like a proper oak or maple and my green hair and my hundred arms would welcome owls and spiders, squirrels and ravens and all kinds of wiggly bugs. I would also have legs and feet instead of roots so I could wander through the world.
Life had other plans for us of course, and no millionaire or baseball player grew out of our dreams. My hair did not turn green either, although it shares the same fate as leaves in Autumn. My feet are still on the road and my head is in the sky, clouds in my eyes, looking at stars. Still thirsty for a cup of light. An answer.