It's still fall here in Fairbanks, one of the most beautiful I can remember, but looking around the studio at my most recent paintings, I see that I'm dreaming of snow. It's something of a mystery to me that I never seem to know, until I stop working and look around at what I've done, exactly what I'm thinking about. I just go up to the studio and work, and I'm as surpised as anyone else to see what comes of it.
Near Teklanika is an image of one of my favorite places in Denali National Park--a quiet little pool just off the road near Teklanika campground. Every time I've drive by it, I fantasize about building a cabin next to it and living there, year-round, watching the seasons come and go. I've often stopped the car, gotten out, and clambered through the woods and tundra to walk all around it, lost in reverie. Once, just a few years ago there, I listened to a magical chorus of a whole family of kestrels calling back and forth to each other from the tops of separate trees.
Smith Lake, in the middle of the 2000-acre arboretum on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, is a much larger body of water, less than two miles from my home. It's a place I've gone to watch the gathering of swans, the change of the seasons, and some of the first snow flurries of the year, for thirty years. I've painted it in every season, but especially in fall. One year, I had an entire exhibition of paintings I did of objects I picked up in a single walk down to the lake's edge from the Geophysical Institute on the university's West Ridge.
I'll remember this tiny little painting for a long time, as I painted it with my right arm in a high-tech sling, recovering from surgery on my shoulder after a bad fall tripping on a tree root while running on the trails in Fairbanks in July. It was as big as I could work at the time, with my painting arm lashed closely to my chest, on the back side of an ergonomic pillow. It was sheer stubborness that made me go to the studio and work anyway, and even such a tiny painting left me aching at the end of every day. I'm out of the sling now, rapidly regaining range of motion and strength, able to work on any size painting I want, and grateful for the remarkable skills of Anchorage surgeon Robert Gieringer, who put my thoroughly torn up shoulder back together.
Another of the small paintings I did while recuperating from the surgery. I was thinking about snow, about how soft it is as it falls, and how miraculous it is that if it keeps falling for thousands of years, consolidates, and flows slowly down from the mountains, it can create such a magnificent mass of ice as the Childs Glacier, which flows into and breaks up in the mighty Copper River near Cordova, Alaska. I made a weeklong raft trip on the Copper several years ago, 100 miles from Chitina to Cordova, in the company of several other artists and writers, and we floated past this extraordinary terminus, calving giant icebergs into the cold, silty waters of the Copper River.
I love the fall. It's never long enough here in Interior Alaska, and I'm not by any means eager for it to be over. I know winter will be here soon enough, and that it will be six months long. But I'm dreaming of snow, and excited at the prospect of seeing it start falling.