The woman's winters are long and bright and silent. Just before nightfall the landscape blossoms into various shades of blue. Few events interrupt the tranquility; a storm, maybe, or the delivery of supplies, or her own infrequent journeys over ice...
Outside her door she reaches for the skis leaning against the outer log wall, places them side by side on the paper-dry snow...
Just before she passes...she turns to look back...at the house she is leaving behind her. There is no differentiation in this season between water and land. A delicate wisp of smoke is escaping from her chimney, although she has added no wood at all to her fire this morning.~from The Underpainter, by Jane Urquhart
On weekends, I take my own skis out into the miles of field and forest behind the house. Sometimes with one or all of the kids, occasionally with Andrew, often alone except for the silent companionship of my faithful dog.
We travel west, following the river that bends and twists along the edge of the property and then turn north towards the copse of trees that divides the fields. You can go for miles out here, up and down, cross country, through an old cornfield on the western border that still has some stray corn husks, clinging grey and colourless now.
Many years ago, many now, I read The Underpainter by Jane Urquhart, a writer I loved. I was underwhelmed by the book and finished it only out of that strange reader sense of honour one has sometimes to an author or a series. And yet, every time I ski away from my house, that one image with which the book opens of a woman strapping on her father's skis and skiing twenty miles across a frozen lake to meet a man who....well, I won't spoil it...every time, that image is driven into my mind and I look back at the smoke which comes from my own chimney and feel...sad? relieved? emotional? I'm not even sure.
That image is so powerful that tonight, after an afternoon skiing in a pristine world after a fresh snowfall, I pulled my now dusty copy of the book down once more and am going to read it again.