The image above is called "Snow Field," by the Maine artist Kathleen Perelka. During the "Stirring the Creative Cauldron" women's retreat I led in October, I spread images from Perelka's calendar across the table and invited participants to pick one up and write about what spoke to them from the painting. We wrote for about 20 minutes, with breathtaking results.
One of the retreat participants was Mary Winsky, a writer and former English teacher, staff developer and change agent. Mary has taught composition and literature at high school, college and graduate levels, and leads writing workshops for adults nationally and locally. This is her story.
Snowfields of Childhood
Snowfields of childhood: our own front and back yards – transformed, the open field beside us – silenced, its small creatures – burrowed in, our neighbor’s lawn meeting the far stone wall – grey.
But oh the whiteness that wasn’t white at all, but pastelled by the slant of sun. Gold in morning, yellowing gradually, noon-day melt revealing liquid blue and lavender and pink that grew more solid in twilight, then was iced over by the moon.
All day long I got to be in it. Of it. My buckled galoshes and thick snow pants snugging me from its bite. I blazed trails, my foot prints the first tracks of intervention. I’d boot down a large circumference, then radius in to center and out until the spokes of the labyrinthine creation were perfect to explore or chase toward exhaustion. Then I’d flop at its edge onto my back, my woolen jacket and cap soft for the angel I spread out to indent. Then another, till I had a host of cherubim and seraphim where once were soft contours of blanketed lawn.
Off next into the stubbled field where I’d sleuth rabbit and fox and woodchuck tracks toward burrows unseen at first. I might plunk down optimistically beside one, grow totally still and wait for a dark, moist snout to twitch toward my scent. But childhood is an impatient time, even on a snow day, though there was no yellow bus to catch, no recitations to stand for, no spelling quiz to hand in.
Instead my ears would pick up a whistle from our kitchen door. My mother, like all the other mothers in our neighborhood, had her distinctive one. Lunch was ready. My grandmother would peel off my mittens and the hat she’d knit and drape all atop the dining room radiator. My mother would kneel before me on the black and white linoleum tiled floor and pull at my slush-filled boots, then the cuffs of my snow pants. Newspapers would be laid out for the inverted boots, the pants would join their anatomical mates on the now-steaming radiator, and I’d sit to tomato soup and grilled cheese at the old maple kitchen table.
I’d look out at the waiting snow and know it would call me back. My mother insisted on waiting for my outerwear to dry. It seemed to take forever. But then, reversing the undressing, I’d suit up and head for the garage and my sled. My brother would be just ahead, pulling his larger Flexible Flyer toward the break in the stone wall at our neighbor’s perimeter.
Then it was up John’s hill to the impossibly high top. A perfect sledding hill, it slanted steeply, necessitating a quick belly flop onto the cold wood slats, then flattened slightly, then zoomed again, coasting at last toward a gentle stop mid field. Up and at ‘em, we’d grab the ropes and post hole up the hill, again and again.
Oh, the serenity of that end-of-day light. Looking out long ahead, we’d see the expanse transformed, the white snow once again at play with the last of winter’s sun. We’d pull open the heavy wooden garage doors, stack our sled in a corner, and tip toward the back door once again.
Our father would get off the train. I’d hang his overcoat in the front hall closet, tuck his lined leather gloves in its pockets, and place his winter felt hat on the shelf above. Pot roast or meatloaf, pork chops or chicken, mashed potatoes, a vegetable, created the predictable nourishment of family suppers. Then baths. Pajama’d, robed and slippered, we’d turn out all the lights and go to a window to watch the last miracle of snow.The moon was up and the world was silver. Chin on palms, elbows on windowsills, I drank in the warm comfort of protection, the blanket of snow. And dreamt.
"Snow Field" (image) © 2009 by Kathleen Perelka. "Snowfields of Childhood" © 2015 by Mary Winsky.