Sunday, January 13, 2013

Snow Boulder

I’m sitting in “my” studio at Vermont Studio Center, a snug room in a sturdy, no-nonsense building that will, for me, always “mean Vermont.” Through the ample window—about six feet tall, four feet wide—I look out on a view of a determined ice-rimmed river; on the other side, on the broad swath of lawn between a building that houses the studios of artists (not writers), a group of five hale and hearty writers and artists are grappling with an enormous snowball. Another artist, the one who has set all this in motion, circles this endeavor taking photos.

I am waiting for the moment when the snowball succumbs to the pull of gravity and tumbles down the slope of the lawn into the river. From here, this seems an inevitable thing, though I cannot be certain. Some of the snowballers kneel in the snow that has grown wetter and heavier in the January thaw that has set this part of the world dripping. The others lean into the work of pushing and, together, they all move the snowball (growing bigger with every rotation) a few inches then regroup and approach it in different configurations. In the last two days of (relative) warmth, some of what had been a lid of thick ice—marbled, translucent, beautiful—has broken free and been carried along the surface of the narrow of open water. There is a point where the river curves and narrows; these ice floes are trapped by some coincidence of shallows and more adamant ice. Below this winter-made dam, the river water has been freed by the warmth and I can see it’s rocky bed.

Through the window I hear the shout I’ve been anticipating—triumph! I look out in time to see the snow boulder teeter then speed down the small hill and I think, “Oh, it will splash! It will break that ice dam!” At the bottom of the hill, though, is a plateau and the snow boulder halts abruptly.

The workers rush down the slope and begin grooming their creation, patting and smoothing it as if it were an animal for which they have been caring. Then they climb back up the hill and a few—the men—begin to pelt the boulder with snowballs. The artist who conceived of this project, hands off the camera, slides down the hill and poses with the boulder, fending off, then trying to catch some of the snow balls. Everyone loiters, pushing snow with their booted feet, peering down toward the snow boulder that is now planted in a spot that would, in summer, probably be ideal for a picnic. 
The snow boulder with "my" studio (second window on the first floor) in the background—courtesy of the artist, Anneke Muijlwijk.

I can’t wait to see how this thing, this shared act of art, turns up in the work.