My Snow-Clad Mountain

Elliot Lakefield

Photo by Jace & Afsoon

My Snow-Clad Mountain

I used to paint. How did I forget? The feeling of soft bristles loaded with linseed oil and paint caressing the canvas, gently bending before unfurling color in a tender, sweeping motion, obediently following the hand like a well-trained dog.

The almost therapeutic feeling of mindlessly putting paint on paper, canvas, or panel, all your feelings someplace else—perhaps in a box stashed away far from the rules and boundaries of reality. The feeling of freedom. A feeling so clear that it almost seems to have assumed a tangible palpability of its own. Painting flowers, birds, houses, and landscapes, but eschewing humans so as to not break the freedom.

I truly liked wine, perhaps an Italian one like a Barolo from Piemonte or a Ripasso from Valpolicella. Something that goes well with meat, preferably the kind my father used to cook. Beef tenderloin skewers on the Weber grill standing stout on the deck at the back of the house. Complimenting the well-marinated meat with either potato gratin, or maybe even fries, and freshly baked bread. As long as I had the meat, the wine, and a good amount of Tzatziki, the rest held less importance. Just thinking of it, even if for just a split second, I can feel the taste as if I’m sitting there with my family. It’s a hot summer day in the middle of July, everyone is free from work, school, and obligations, just eating food together, laughing, and enjoying each other's company. Carefree, even if just for a moment.

Where did it go wrong? Did I take a wrong turn somewhere way back in a now untraceable and unknown time and place? I can’t go back, no matter which shoes I put on, what map I bring, or how far I walk. No guide to take me either. I’m the first to walk this route. People have trekked high, snow-clad mountains, dove deep among the whales and coral reefs, and walked miles upon miles over waterless deserts—but none have walked my road; just like how I have not walked theirs. I had no guide walking up the mountain, so there would be none to take me back down to where it went wrong. I’m alone on this mountain.

Did I go wrong? This is wrong, I am in the wrong place, subjectively so, but did I go wrong? I might have ended up here regardless of which road, route, shoes, and time of day I chose to begin this adventure. Was it true that all roads led to Rome? There’s no way to know now.

The café around the corner of the street that ran alongside the canal, knew how to make their tea and coffee. I’d go there and order myself a cup, sometimes espresso with varying amounts of milk and foam, an innumerable amount of coffee drinks with names I no longer remember. Sometimes, it was just a cup of tea as the rain beaded up on the large windows, people passing the little café under their black umbrellas, none wise enough to glance up, oblivious to my watchful gaze. A silent watcher of the world.

There I would slowly sip my drink while filling pages upon pages in my sketch-book. It was (usually) an A5 pad that fit in my little backpack, so the pages quickly filled up before I was forced to buy a new one. Pages covered in graphite, lines, pieces of eraser, and perhaps a droplet of coffee or tea on a page or two. I’d bring those sketches home where I would enlarge them, add color, and add love and life to them, covering up the white of canvas, panel, and paper. I had done so for years, yet I had stopped.

“Isn’t it scary?” I had once been asked. I was confused what they were referencing, so I asked what it is I should be scared of. “Painting of course. It’s a large white canvas, you can do whatever you want and there are so many options. Aren’t you scared?” I wasn’t, I replied. Was it a lie? It didn’t feel like it at the time.

My fingers lingered on the empty space upon my wall where a painting once hung, its absence a silent echo in the room. I hadn’t seen one of my paintings in a long time. My creations, walking their own road, out there in the world, perhaps reused under another artist’s hand, or resting in a corner of some distant flea market. Somewhere, perhaps, an aging pair of eyes glances daily at my work, the strokes a silent witness to their joys and tribulations, a mute spectator to the unwritten chapters of their life.

When did I last have some wine? I stopped drinking a long time ago. A beer from time to time, but there wasn’t much more than that, life didn’t allow for such. I didn’t mind it, really. But when did I last have some Barolo from Piemonte? I should buy myself some if I find the chance to.

I used to try all the wines the store had to offer. Starting with Italian, then French, Spanish—one or the other Chilean or Australian as well. I quickly settled with Italian wines, something with its character that just struck me as beautiful. I also believe Italian wines funneled the best paintings, however, I might just be making things up, forgetting the works that were achieved after a glass of French or Chilean wine.

I loved it so: picking up a new bottle of wine, priming a canvas, squeezing out varying colors on my palette in a neat line. Grab my sketch-book, and flip through its pages until I got to the sketches from that day. A woman walking her dog, some doves talking to each other on a rooftop, or some flowers I didn’t know existed before accidentally stumbling upon them.

I’d drink my wine, and listen to music—jazz, classical and hip hop. Then I’d get to work, painting and painting, drinking and humming along. The hours would pass, and suddenly the morning birds hummed with me, singing their early songs while looking for breakfast. I’d finish up where I was, stretch my back and my knees, just to hear the crack and whine—perhaps I would let out the sound of an old uncle, moaning as I put the brushes down and made my way to bed.

That aching pain, still feeling it from time to time, getting up out of a chair, is not the same. It feels similar, but not the same. Earlier, my body would whine because I was doing something right, it could take it; now it was whining because I was doing something wrong, growing older and further distant.

The familiar notes—Bill Evans, Chopin, Tyler the Creator, and my eternal confidante Dean Martin, my Dean Martin—used to fill my atelier, rhythmically flowing with the strokes of my paintbrush, me, a momentary conductor of jazz, classic, and hip-hop. It feels like a lifetime ago that I last heard “That’s Amore” and “Everybody Loves Somebody.”

Nietzsche stated truths about music and life—Without music, life is a mistake he had once said. His words now lingered like a strong familiar scent in a house you once lived in.

I don’t remember when I last listened to music, and by that I mean actually listened to music, sat down, and paid attention to the melodies, the words, and the feeling the artist wanted to portray, felt the absolute necessity to tell others, tell me. Nietzsche was right, it all looked like one big mistake.

In the eyes of many, art remains an enigma—a time-waste, ungrasped and fleeting for those who do not understand. To some, a Veblen good—acquired not for appreciation, but perceived esteem from those who understand. Yet, for the rare soul who deeply connects, art transcends all—it becomes a mirror. A quiet portal to peer directly into the depths of one’s being.

Information, books, and problems stimulate your brain, music stimulates your ears and your feelings. Art, stimulates that which can not be reached, feelings hidden deep inside, far behind walls, locks, and illusive traps. How I cried as I sat in front of Mark Rothko’s paintings in New York. I wasn’t the only one. The colors overwhelm you, reminding you that you are mortal and that you’re just here for a short period before passing on. Raw and pure as death is, was, and will be.

Despite knowing that, my walls, now thicker than they had ever been, locks unpickable and traps more illusory than any magic. Was it because I stopped?

Did I have to stop? Echoes of excuses and rational decisions washed over me. “I had to stop” shimmering in the pool of a muted, color-drained reality. But how big of a lie is that? Did life nudge me off the thin ledge I was walking? Or did the questions, doubts, and fears frost the path? Forcing me to slip into a frozen land where all flowers of blooming creativity wilt, and I, myself, am encased in an impenetrable crystal.

All I have to do is pick the brush and paints up. But what if the brush no longer paints? What if my eyes no longer see that which wishes to be painted? What if people no longer buy my paintings, I’m old news and it’s no longer novel to hang my work on your living-room wall?

Questions like this have often overwhelmed me, left to be thought of on another day. Yet never to be answered. Pieces of unanswered questions dancing gently on the empty walls, in the solitude of an artless, frozen, and wilt space. A hut halfway up my snow-clad mountain, where colors are but names and brushes are slowly stiffening. Maybe I asked myself too many questions. Perhaps the fear of putting the brush down again is what’s holding me back.

It felt good to see that the café was still standing where it had always stood, on the corner of the street running along the canal. The woman working there was the daughter of the owner, and it turned out that the owner had passed away a few years ago. I hadn’t known. Life moves too quickly.

I sat in the seat I had always sat in, although the chair and table were new. I sketched the owner from memory. Her smile, and the crinkles next to her eyes as her teeth showed, thanking a customer for their patronage. The pen moving quickly and naturally over the paper. The hair on my arms raised and a shiver raced down my back.

Quietly, I left the sketch beside my empty cup on the counter, a graphite memory of her mother—smiling warmly from the paper, just as I remembered her. As I exited, I caught a glimpse through the window, seeing her hands clutching the sketch lightly, her shoulders gently shaking. I paused, an unfamiliar yet consoling warmth spreading through my chest, a soothing of a once unnoticed ache, or an itch. The question lingered silently in the air, unanswered, yet somehow, inconsequentially so.

I picked up some wine, Barolo from Piemonte, as well as a few canvases, oil and paint, brushes, turpentine, and some other need-haves. I was fortunate that both stores were close to the parking lot; the short distance allowing me to easily drop off the wine before making my way to the art store.

“Restocking your art supplies, or getting back on the road of painting?” The cashier, a delicate young woman with midnight hair running down her shoulder asked me, her eyes and hands moving quickly, yet gently, as she scanned all the items.

“Something like that,” I found myself responding with a comforting vagueness. A thin barrier between my fragile determination and the curious eyes of the world. It had been long since I had last bought any materials, a familiar yet somehow unknown feeling. The smell of the store, the small talk with with cashier, it felt all wrong. The urge to leave tugging at my core, the cashier having started scanning the items the only reason I didn’t run out.

“You seem to know what you like, its not every day we get someone buying such specific items,” she observed quietly as my fingers danced, albeit hesitantly, over the keys to enter my PIN. “May the strokes of your brush find harmony,” she offered with a sudden serious tone, her eyes holding a familiar depth of understanding. “Thank you,” I whispered as my voice failed to resonate. I grabbed the bag, canvases, and quickly stepped out into the bustling street. The air outside was cool, yet my shoulders fell further the more breaths I took.

I got home, the house as quiet as I had left it. I put all the materials in the living room before pouring myself a glass of wine. I spent twenty minutes rummaging around for my old vinyl player, and another ten finding my albums, before putting on Dean Martin. Everybody Loves Somebody started playing loudly from the speakers. The nostalgic notes reverberated through the house, the sun shining through the window, dancing across the wall in a rhythmic motion. I shivered again, noticing goosebumps climbing up my arm.

I had finished my glass of wine before I had even put paint on the palette, my feet tapping along with the music as I opened all the boxes and plastic containers. I took out the stiff, waxed brushes. After struggling with the child-proof turpentine bottle, I poured some, followed by linseed oil, which I made sure to put on the palette as well, next to the colors, all in the same order I had always done it.

The brushes were out, the canvas was on the easel, and the colors were waiting quietly in anticipation. Everything was ready for me to get to painting, however, I found myself sitting completely still. I didn’t touch the wine, and I didn’t tap along with the music. As I sat there, my breathing grew increasingly shallow, barely skimming the surface of my lungs. The air seemed to hesitate, reaching only halfway before retreating in small, feeble puffs. Like a stone skipping on the surface of lake. “Something in my heart keeps saying, my someplace is here” Dean Martin sang in the living room, where time seemed to linger coldly suspended, frozen. I felt my lips move, barely so, scarcely a breath, "I’d arrange for every girl...” I whispered, following the familiar words which I had heard a thousand times.

A pause, deep and lingering as Dean kept singing, and a sip of wine. My foot began to tap, ever so slightly, along with the music. Almost reluctantly so, dancing with the past. I told my body to speak, yet it wouldn’t. My foot kept tapping, yet my body refused to move. I had to force myself to move my body, even just the faintest of movement would be a rebellion against the overbearing silence and frost that began to settle in. Coming up from the surface after a deep dive, my body gasped for air and I took a deep breath.

I didn’t know what to paint. No ideas came to me. With every fibre of my being, I reached for my sketchbook, and flipped through its pages. Nothing in it felt like it wanted to be painted—or perhaps I just wasn’t used to painting. It didn’t matter much what I painted. I just had to do it, I just had to start. I wasn’t planning on making a new Salvador Mundi or Water Lilies. There were no expectations or goals, all I had to do, and all I ought to aim for, was to put paint on canvas. Nothing more. Yet, the brush felt like an anchor in my hand, my vessel slowly rocking on the calm sea as the surface began to freeze over.

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and led the brush to where I had always had the turpentine, dipping the stiff bristles in the clear liquid as a strong familiar scent wafted into the room. Grabbing a piece of toilet paper and dabbing the brush around until the bristles loosen up. Reaching for the linseed oil, dipping the brush, and bringing it over to the colors where I found the sky-blue, swirling the brush around until the pigments filled the bristles. I put the brush to the canvas, and the bristles softly bend against the canvas, with my eyes still closed I feel my hand following the springiness of the brush. Sweeping the brush along the canvas and quickly forming a sky. There should be clouds, I decided, small, fluffy white clouds lining the horizon far, far away. So I opened my eyes.

I kept painting, and as I painted, a mountain slowly but surely built itself up on the canvas. A snow-clad mountain majestically reaching over the clouds. There are no camps in sight, just a single small path winding its way from the bottom, to the top. There are no separate roads or paths, no place to take a sudden left, and no place to get lured into taking a right. It is a simple, yet in no way easy path, from the bottom to the top.

On the path is a small man, he is walking up the mountain, now some bit past the middle, and just coming up on the snow-covered part. What will he find there? The path that had so far been all rock and dirt will now turn into something new, something yet to be discovered, what will be on this undiscovered path? Will he be able to keep his footing? There is no way for the man to know, without continuing on up the snow-clad mountain.

Elliot Lakefield

Elliot Lakefield is an aspiring writer and music producer from Sweden, where he also studies Art History. His passions extend to various forms of artistic expression, including painting, photography, and restoring vintage fountain pens, each serving as a conduit for his boundless imagination and meticulous attention to detail. Elliot seeks to weave narratives that enrapture readers, ardently endeavoring to leave an indelible imprint in the literary world.

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