Life inside a picture

Summer is so easy here, so obvious. It has the blinding beauty of a supermodel, dazzling and charming everybody. So breathtaking the appearance, such radiating warmth.

Summer is so easy here, so obvious. It has the blinding beauty of a supermodel, dazzling and charming everybody. So breathtaking the appearance, such radiating warmth. No wonder everybody flocks to it.

Winter, on the other hand, is the quiet, homely cousin, a wallflower left to bloom in peace. Although filled to the brim with inner values, which can be discovered over time, winter tends to gain in beauty slowly, usually only upon closer acquaintance and in favourable light.

Colour leaches out of the land at this time of year as if it has no constancy, only to reappear in odd things, at odd times, like the violent greens, purples and oranges revealed around snow crystals if the sun and human eye line up just right. Other times, the whole landscape is tinted a sharp blue as if the sky had fallen onto the Earth or the oceans risen up.

I love this winter play of light that feels as if colour filters of immense size were fitted over everything. A not so subtle reminder that what we perceive as the world the way it should be (green trees, blue water, whitish clouds) is not as true as we like. Summer is more like that – what you see is what you get.

This morning, Sam and I walked through scenery in sepia, as if we had found ourselves inside an old photograph. Different hues and gradations of brown saturated the overcast sky, the mountains, trees and snow, muted all that was supposed to be green and blue. Winter had sucked out the colours, those shifty things that are just a mood of light, and left us with a distillation of landscape.

There was a fitting stillness to the forest, an absence of life – the summer birds gone, pulled back to more southerly latitudes just like the sunlight, as if there was a black hole somewhere down south that swallows everything buoyant up. The imprints of caribou hooves in the snow had already turned into grey-beige sculpted ice, two ovals hooking toward each other at the tip, the animals themselves a mere idea.

We followed our worn trail, finding more snapshots of other lives, commenting with our own tracks on the stories told at our feet. Here and there were small indentations in the snow left by snowshoe hare and ermine paws, then the swath of broken-off poplar saplings where a bull moose had gone wild this fall like an antlered weed whacker. Across the valley, the snowy trees stood stiffly, reaching towards the sepia sky. Just don’t move.

It wasn’t quite as one-dimensional as it seemed in this still-life of olden times, I realized after a while. A tall rosehip bush blazed with bright-red fruit and from the skinny highbush cranberry twigs, berry clusters hung like miniature cherries. As if cautioning against entry into the darkroom, lest the picture be destroyed, they glowed ferociously, refusing even the slightest hint of brown.

I found myself holding my breath subconsciously, listening all the time for telltale signs that this winter picture was about to burst into life: birds and beasts rushing into it, the spruces rustling and swaying, and the clouds stuck motionless no more. But the land remained still as if concentrating hard on composing its winter picture, perhaps waiting for us to stop so that then, everything could be released. But for now, it was trying to make sure nothing moved so that nothing would end up blurred when the shutter finally closed.

The light began to change on our way home as the sun rose higher, allowing for more colours to seep back in, letting the brownish tint grow thinner, faint. Maybe that was the cue for the grouse to flutter up in a heart-stopping whir of wings just off the trail, seemingly clumsy from such long posing. Of course they always seem clumsy, these plump sisters of cousin winter who even for birds look particularly chinless.

Sam and I felt less intrusive then, not the only ones moving over the stage setting, t he crunch of our footsteps not screaming “action!” quite so blatantly anymore. Everything became three-dimensional again, the way it should be, after winter had shown itself in its sepia mood.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

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