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January 2014, vol 9, no 4

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Fred Lowe

Plein Air

When I come out with the dog in the morning, a man stands motionless down by the river. He stands where the north wind catches him, intent as a heron on the flow of the in-shore water. When I climb farther down, I see an easel and a half-blank canvas hidden behind the riverbank trees.

He’s sweatered and wrapped
in blowing, tattered scarves
like a Russian beggar

Only the tips of his fingers and the upper half of his face are uncovered. The fingertips of an old pair of knitted gloves have been snipped off to allow him to manipulate the brush. I watch the dance of his arm as he paints.

He doesn’t seem to mind me watching him. “That’s beautiful,” I say. He nods, but doesn’t turn his head from the glinting vista in front of him. The brush jabs then caresses the canvas as the scene fills out: bare brown willow scrub on a scabby island, limbs of a river birch arched across the creek-mouth, the far, chestnut-dark of the opposing shore.

Before my eyes
he draws down the sky
the long streaky ribbons of cobalt

and the radical white
of the late autumn sun
flashing on the water

Eventually he stands back to see what he’s done, and only then does he glance at me. His eyes are wide with inward pleasure, blue as the empty dome of sky.