It had been the coldest October I could remember. Rafts of ice floated up and down the lake, blown by the winds, breaking up and re-forming as if dancing a ballet. The leaves had been off the trees since the end of September, almost as if they couldn’t fall fast enough.
It was in the last, quiet hour before sunset when the real beauty of my rustic lake home was revealed to me. The sun drifted its way behind the hills as the wind died off to nothing. The lake became a mirror reflecting the pink-blue-purple-gold of the sky and the deep green of the evergreen forested hills. It was a green so deep that it appeared to be black.
I would sit at my frozen picnic table with a steaming mug of coffee warming my hands, watching the snow geese and the western grebes. Only the voices of the loons and the geese pierced the blanket of peace I had wrapped about myself.
When the colors had faded, and I could no longer feel my fingers, I would go back into the house and stoke up the fire, still in the thrall of the lake’s spell. Then, only when I had absorbed the tranquility of my lake, would I pick up a brush and enter my world of canvas and color.
On the first morning I saw the naked trees stark against the incredible sky, I knew I had to somehow capture the power. Attempt followed attempt and soon my house was littered with the “almosts.” The bones of the trees were right, but the essence of the sky was missing. Each night I worked longer and more feverishly until one day I realized that I had to back off and gain some perspective.
And so it was that in the small hours before dawn one morning I put away the brushes and paints, and covered the canvasses, frustrated by my inability to capture the essence of the lake and the sky that was mirrored in it. Exhausted, I fell into my bed drained and unable to concentrate, yet sleep escaped me. My mind was filled with the loons and the trees and their sky.
At last, knowing it was futile to try to sleep I rose and made myself tea. Wrapping a blanket about myself I walked out to my small sitting room to watch the trees greeting the pale dawn. The warmth and fragrance of the steaming cup of tea made me feel rested as my bed never had, and the familiarity of the ritual soothed away my frustrations.
The serenity of the moment deepened, a sense of sacredness pervaded the garden. Willingly, I gave myself to the experience, allowing the essence of the moment to seep into my soul.
The air felt strange, alive and crystalline, and the trees beckoned to me. I could feel them calling me to come out and greet the sun with them, and bemused, I answered their call. Stepping outside, still wrapped in my blanket, I walked through the frozen grass, until I was in the orchard among the trees on the shore of the lake.
Looking west to the black-forested hills, I held my breath, overcome by the feeling of anticipation that infused me. Something told me I stood on the verge of an event, vast and unfathomable, though what it could be I couldn’t imagine.
Gradually I realized that the ground was vibrating, and had been for a while, shaking as if a giant walked nearby. As I became aware of the vibrations beneath my feet, a deep rumbling began to penetrate my reverie, shattering the peace. The unfamiliar thunders grew louder with every moment, and the birds fell silent as if waiting to see what approached.
Huddling nervously in my blanket, my eyes were drawn to the north and there, emerging from the mist I saw machines—great, huge, monstrous machines I had no words to describe. They came slowly and relentlessly down the middle of my lake. The waters rolled and boiled around them as they passed me by, paying me less attention than they did the trees. The ice floes broke and tipped crazily, riding the waves that danced about the giant treads.
The line of machines continued south, grinding through the swamp, going I knew not where and coming from where I could not imagine. As they came, the waters grew, and waves began splashing at my feet and then my knees. At last, realizing that I was in trouble, I turned and raced for the higher ground and the safety of my house.
Still the waters rose, following me, and still the machines came rolling down from the north.
I closed the door and stood to gaze out the window at the rising waters and the monstrous machines that continued their unrelenting journey south. The waters rose, and my house began swaying, creaking and groaning under the water’s assault.
I fell to my knees praying to the God I didn’t believe in, but he wasn’t listening. My house shook and rocked, and lifted with the rising water, turning slowly as if to say goodbye to the lake and the hills to the west. Dishes and furniture careened off paintings and walls—my life in small objects passing before my eyes. I looked, disbelieving, through the shattered windows and saw the inconceivable sky spinning around like a child’s top spins.
I covered my head, and screamed my prayer, but the only answer I received was the sure and profound sound of breaking glass and furniture shattering. At last, when I believed it would never stop, the floor I clung to gave a great lurch and the noise of destruction stuttered into silence, a silence every bit as loud as the din had been.
Throwing back my blanket, determined to get out of the wreckage while I could, I saw the last of the machines going south into the broken swamp. The trail they blazed through the marshland was a great scar that would never heal, and I wept at the sight of it.
I surveyed the damage to my home with stunned eyes. My house was now perched all askew upon a slight rise that had been perhaps fifty feet behind it before. Everything I had ever owned was now in full view of anyone who might choose to make a leisurely visit to my remote home. Every item of clothing, every bit of dish, smashed or whole, everything dangled from the branches of the broken trees, displayed everywhere.
Despite the carnage, the sky hung pink-blue-purple-golden and unchanged while the naked trees made lewd gestures with my most personal of possessions. The ridiculousness of the situation penetrated my shock, and I began laughing, and falling to my knees I laughed until I couldn’t breathe. Eventually, my laughter became sobs, and I howled until I was spent.
The silence was too much, making me intensely aware of my frail mortality. Stepping through the rubble, I gathered my canvasses, paints, and brushes. Miraculously my easel was untouched, and so I did the only thing I could think of.
I painted the pathetic wreck of my house reflected in the perfection of the lake and the hills.
I painted the obscene trees against the incredible sky as they proudly displayed the debris of my life.
And then I painted those awesome machines as they paraded past me, not realizing that I was there and not caring.
When I was done, three paintings leaned against my ruined fireplace. Exhausted, I found my bed and righted it. Crawling into it I finally fell asleep, resting dreamlessly.
When my eyes opened, I was disoriented. I awoke in my bedroom and looking around, I could see no signs of the previous day’s events. In disbelief, I went to the kitchen and found all my kitsch and accumulated knick-knacks still to be there, whole and in their tasteless entirety. There were no broken dishes, no broken furniture.
Awed and amazed at the power of the dream I had just experienced I set about preparing my breakfast. “Idiot,” I muttered, still feeling rather giddy. I wondered what my sister would say when I called to tell her about it.
Making a cup of coffee, I went to sit by the window in the sitting room.
As I passed the fireplace I froze. Three pictures leaned against the uninjured hearth.
One was of obscene trees decorated with my personal possessions, silhouetted against an incredible sky. In the second picture, my sad house perched askew on the hill, broken and sad, framed by the astounding sunset.
And the third picture was a terrifying image of gigantic, grotesque machines tearing up my lake, plowing through the swamp with the waters roiling wildly about the monstrous treads, beneath the sky that had eluded my skills until that night.
Even I had to admit that the power of the paintings was overwhelming.
October Sky © Connie J. Jasperson 2016 All Rights Reserved
Written circa 1992 and originally published On Wattpad, December 2012
Republished on Edgewise Words Inn, April 2015