When the woman came to paint the farm, I didn’t know what to say, so I asked her if she would like to come in.
She wore a white, crocheted shawl about her shoulders and a colorful bandana in her hair. She had light eyes, blue or green, and a green sweater over a pale pink dress. It was a warm day for early April in Hoosick, the day after Easter, and she arrived as pleasantly and unexpectedly as the warm day had.
“I looked out my window and saw your farm, and I have canvas and acrylics in the car. Would you mind if I set up across the road and try to paint the property?”
I hesitated, at first not understanding what she was asking. I looked past her to the blue Volvo station wagon, where a crystal dangling from the rearview mirror winked back at me. She must have mistaken my pause for reluctance because in my silence she said, “There’s a strip of dead land between your crops that runs along your farm, and from the road it looks like a river.”
“The land’s not dead,” I said. “That’s just where we cut the corn.”
“It’s one of the loveliest, most unexpected sights I’ve ever seen,” she said.
“You’re welcome to paint it. Is there anything I can get for you?”
“I’d love a piece of charcoal, actually,” she said. “If you have it. And some water, if you’d be so kind.”
“You’ll want a chair to sit in, I imagine,” I said. I went to the deck and put a couple of pieces of charcoal into a brown paper bag and got a hard-backed chair from the office. I went to the kitchen and filled a jar with water. She waited in the doorway.
“Would you care to come in a moment? I’m just about to have breakfast if you’re hungry.” She came in and said no thank you. I offered her a glass of water.
“Just for the paints,” she said. I gave the jar to her, and she thanked me.
“Restroom’s first door on your right here, just come on in any time you need to.” I brought the chair out to her car.
“Oh,” she said. “Would you mind if I left my car here?”
“Not at all,” I said. “You want me to drive you over?”
She turned to look at the world behind us.
“You’re very kind, but I’d like the walk. I’ll bring the chair across the road myself,” she said.
“Let me help,” I said. I rarely walked to the road any more. I was almost always in the truck.
“Thank you. I don’t mean to put you out,” she said.
We went on down the drive, a two-person caravan. She didn’t have to stop once to adjust the way she carried her canvas, acrylics, cups, water and brushes. She had perfectly balanced all of it, or she was supernaturally determined not to waste a minute of sunlight, or both. I set the chair down across the road, ending our procession where the Wilsons’ trash bins usually waited for collection.
“Cars come by awful fast, you know,” I said. She smiled as if to respond, Not much we can do about that, can we? She sat down in the chair.
“Perfect,” she said. We were both a little short of breath. She put the canvas in her lap and supplies by her feet. We looked at the land. I think I saw what she meant by the land looking like a river, though I can’t say for sure. “This quality of light is just beautiful,” she said. It was. Looking at the farm from where she sat, the barns stood both out of and a part of the land. It would make for a fine painting, I thought.
“It’s funny. You saying the land between crops looks like a river. From here you can’t see it over the corn, but there’s a real creek, you know. We passed it coming up the drive.”
“Yes,” she said politely but without much interest. It occurred to me that she didn’t plan to paint the land, but the land as she saw it. She had taken one of the lumps of charcoal from the bag and began streaking it across the canvas, looking alternately between the canvas and the land, creating something that was neither.
“If you need anything, just start to walk back. I’ll drive out to meet you.”
“Yes,” she said. “Thank you so much. This is just wonderful. Please, enjoy your breakfast.” She was trying, it seemed, to look meaningfully at me when she thanked me, trying to make sure I understood her gratitude, but the scene had hypnotized her. I reckoned there wasn’t any form of gratitude more evident than her intense pursuit of the work before her.
“All right now. I’ll keep an eye out,” I told her. She hummed in response. As I crossed the road, walked down the drive, past the creek, and up to the house, I felt something like an usher at the movie theaters walking in front of the screen. Down in front, I imagined the woman thinking, wanting popcorn to throw at me. As I walked to the porch, I became acutely aware that I was somehow between and a part of the landscape and the woman’s rendering of it.
After a few hours on the tractor, I walked back up the drive with some water.
“For the painter.” I said. She laughed.
“Thank you. My paints aren’t thirsty yet, but I am,” she set down the nub of coal and canvas and stood, accepting the jar with blackened hands. She stepped away, drinking and looking. “My, what a day,” she said. The canvas was charcoal all over, rough smears and delicate, grainy shading, thumb-smudged adjustments. It looked unlike any farm I had ever seen.
Story and Photograph by: Matt Briggs