It has been beastly cold here on the shores of Lake Superior...single-digit temperatures hovering just above or below the zero mark. As the sun climbs in the sky, temperatures warm a bit and with the dead calm winds, it’s actually quite tolerable. I went out late one afternoon to Meyers Beach to survey the ice and hopefully catch the light sparkling through its forms. I was not disappointed.
Meyers Beach, as many of you remember, was the entry point for the famous ice caves in 2014, when thousands of people streamed in to see the bejeweled stalactites and ice formations gracing the sandstone caves. Not so this year…with dubious ice conditions due to the abnormally warm winter, even this deep freeze of the past week won’t do it.
It is incredibly calm, peaceful, and serene. There is a deep silence that is only interrupted by the occasional stretching and sighing of water under the ice and the faint far off chuckle of a raven. It is the sound of turning as one settles in to sleep. At 5 degrees above zero, watercolor painting is an absolutely futile endeavor. I am forced to just look, and in that, I sense a freedom to just let go, absorb, and relax into it. To fill the well, secure in knowing that even if I am not actively painting, the scene before me is being recorded in my mind’s eye. I will draw from the well later.
Incredibly, I stay almost two hours, never feeling the bite of cold. In the beauty of this intersection of light, frozen water, and land, I forget myself and time stretches out like the rays of the lengthening sun as afternoon turns to evening. Colors become more pronounced. Blues become violet, yellows turn to amber. The sky turns orange, vermillion, and magenta before everything darkens. A crescent moon glows and the first evening star comes out. I burn the memory in my mind like a laser.
Back in my warm studio, I pour some Lake water from one of my reserved jars that I gathered before freeze-up and start to paint, free flowing, from the remembered experience. Several frustrated and boggled attempts later, I make the jump from literal color to how it felt…it is exaggerated, but something clicks. This is new territory for me, terrifying but also exciting. It is often at this Edge, this last attempt when I truly don’t care what it looks like, that the small breakthroughs come. The ice is edged in vivid gold, the violet blue shadows settle effortlessly into a few hollow places, and a memory is preserved to sustain me through winter darkness.