The weather is turning up here on the mountain. Fall colors held off for the longest time because it’s been so warm and there had been no frost. But there’s a nip in the air now and the trees are coloring. We’ve been having fires in the gallery for a couple of weeks now.
Truchas is at 8100 feet and my house at 8500 so I get snow. I’ve never lived anyplace with snow before, and we have it for three or four months of the year. I was nervous about that my first winter. I just didn’t know what to expect and it was severe that year, with three and four feet on the ground for most of those months. I bought snowshoes! I always particularly loved the first light of morning after a fresh snow. The tracks in the yard told what wildlife had come to call the night before.
My road out to the house is about ¾ of a mile long and dirt. It has to be plowed after most snows, except those times when we have back to back storms for two or three days. There’s no point in plowing until the storms pass, so I get snowed in. I came to love those days. I couldn’t get out and no one could get in. It was deep white and gray, soft and silent. Then the storm would clear, the clouds break and the sky open to bright cobalt blue. Trees cast their indigo shadows, the snow sparkled in the sun and I was enveloped in my own wonderland. The studio took on a very special magic on these snow days and painting felt especially rich—a mug of cocoa or coffee nearby. That first year, not yet knowing my road, my Jeep was stuck in snowdrifts several times. I learned fairly quickly to always carry a snow shovel in the car, something I’d never even owned before.
I heat with wood exclusively so I start thinking about putting it in sometime around August. Folks here get permits to cut firewood in the Carson National Forest that surrounds us. At this altitude there is pinon pine and juniper mixed with aspen. A sure sign of fall is the bags of locally collected nuts of the pinon, or pine nuts, offered out of the backs of trucks parked along roads. Locals have been harvesting them for several hundred years. Higher up, the forest goes to ponderosa pine, under which grow thickets of oak. As fall shows itself, patches of red and gold appear high in the foothills. The red is oak and the gold aspen. Higher still, the ponderosa gives way to a mixture of limber pine, white fir and the most common tree, the Douglas fir. Another sign of winter’s approach is trucks of all shapes, sizes and vintages laden with wood, coming down from the mountain. While some of my friends get permits and cut their own, I buy my wood from my neighbor, Walter.
Much as I hold my breath before winter’s return with something akin to mild dread, the truth is, once I get into the rhythm of doing wood chores and managing my stove, I come to love it. There is something very grounding about being tied to the changing of the seasons. I feel closer to the land. It’s rather like the long drive into Santa Fe or Taos to buy groceries: It keeps me conscious. I have a big pantry and, since I can’t dash to the store for a forgotten item or drop by on my way home from work, I plan my trips. Again, there’s something satisfying about being made aware of what I need to do to take care of myself. These mountains demand consciousness on so many levels.
There are more dinner parties in the winter when many of us are no longer sitting galleries away from our homes and studios. And it is the time of year when most of us make our art. The tourists are gone, the snow has slowed the pace, the wood is in and fires blaze.
I am going into my third winter in Truchas and I can’t think of a better way to live. Not since my time on Vashon Island in Puget Sound in the early 70’s have I felt so connected to the land and so aware of the movements of her seasons. I am deeply grateful every day.