An old man walks slowly from his house. He has with him his paints and brushes in an old sack, an old canvas, and a rickety old chair, which he has slung over his shoulder. He picks his way carefully through the field. When he was younger, he would have walked much quicker with a sense of joyous abandonment and a spring in his step, unconcerned with his surroundings. Now he chooses his steps carefully.
The sun is shining high in the sky, but still the day looks grey to him because his eyes do not see what they used to see. Now they see only the furtive wisps of life. But no matter; it is still enough. Looking out now, he thinks he might pick shades of grey and brown for the old worn palette. He will know more when he arrives.
|A palette of grey and brown.|
And presently, he does. He places the rickety old chair in a spot on the grass and looks out upon the familiar scene. He has painted this scene every year now for many, many years. In the back of his mind he knows that some years were fuller than others, brimming with excitement, which he siphoned into the colors on his old stained palette. From there, he splashed them on to canvas and let them grow of their own accord.
Crooked and gnarled hands choose the tools from his sack, the tubes crusted at their tops with old paint. He manages to remove what he needs, though, and sets to work mixing his drab colors. Such a dark day to paint, he muses. But darkness has its hidden gold, too, running freely and strong in blackened veins—as powerful as the red blood that runs on life’s own canvas. He knows this well because his eyes do not see what they used to see. Now they see what he chooses to see.
The large grey boulder, then the wizened and rough old trees, then the muddy water, which he can hear but does not see anymore—all of these he paints as they appear to him. The sky is filled with threatening clouds, and the screech of the crows grows shriller as each day passes. But he has been here before, and knows winter is coming. And he thinks that is good. It is overdue.
At last he finishes his work and sits back. He closes his eyes and listens to the muddy water as it rushes over the smooth old stones in the riverbed. The wind is gently blowing and it brings to him the old familiar scents. Quickly, then, he reaches into his sack for more paints and opens them roughly, squeezing them in any which way on the cracked old palette. He cannot see the colors very well, but it doesn’t matter, and that is good, too. Smiling, he washes the sky with baby blue, and he wildly dabs on deep greens and feathery golds and brilliant deep reds. The colors pulse in the wind as it blows gently into his face.
Then it is time to go home. He slings his pack and chair over his shoulder and carries the old canvas carefully in front of him, the painting looking as grey and drab as ever, he supposes. He places it in a closet to dry among the hundreds of other canvases hidden there. There is not much light in the closet, and all the many colors appear as many hues of grey and black. The eyes cannot see what light no longer reveals.
During the night, the old house burns down, and in the morning the paintings and the old man are gone as if they had never been. A lifetime of work travels in circular rings of grey smoke, heading up into a grey sky and dissipating slowly until it is no more. No one is the wiser. It is as if the paintings and the old man never existed. But the wind whispers that this is a lie. For now, winter will clean the old linen once again, as it always does, and then the spring will come and the artist will paint again.