Tag Archives: snow

Johannes

I took my inspiration for this piece from a photo writing prompt on 1000 Words’ Pinterest board.

Two children playing in the snow

 

We build statues out of snow, and weep to see them melt.

Can I tell you how it was? The earth like a saucer under that wide, grey-gold sky, the sun never rising more than a stretched hand above the horizon. Something swept over the ice that summer – over us – leaving behind it a mark that would never wash away.

I don’t know what brought us up here. I was too young to remember anything from before, and it was understood that you didn’t ask. There were only three of us: Mother with her careful grey eyes, me and Johannes. Our little house, with its tin roof and slanted walls, stood in the middle of the icy flats that, even now, seem to stretch on forever. Once a month, there was Wilhelm, who came with groceries and admiring eyes, and took some of the money mother kept in a tin box behind the hearth.

In winter, Mother warned us to stay close, and so we did – tethered by some invisible cord that we knew not to stretch. Summer days brought more freedom: Johannes and I would creak out on to the porch that ran around the house, spreading our fingers in front of our faces, peering through their shadows to see how much time was left before dark. Johannes couldn’t keep his fingers the same distance apart, and generally left them tucked in his mittens, but I got to be quite good at it. More than three fingers of sun meant several hours free of the warm, wood-smoke dark.

Those precious days, I’d stride away from the house toward the horizon, the safe, resented gravity of home tugging at my back. When we were younger, I let Johannes tag along with me but, as I grew, I shook him off. Wounded but uncomplaining, he stayed by the porch, watched by empty windows as he scraped snow into cluster of short, fleeting friends – a stalk of grass for a mouth, sticks for the arms and holes gouged by pointed fingers for their eyes. Mother unleashed cold fury on him once for pilfering some beans from the pot, so he stuck to what he could find on the ground after that.

That summer was a fractious one, and tempers flared like sun on ice. Mother spent more time than ever folded into the dusty corners of the house while I, fevered with my teenage years, loved and hated everything with all passion and no reason. Johannes padded quietly between the pair of us, bewildered by the looks and long silences, wide-eyed and needy in his worry. His fingers, when not tucked in their woollen mittens, found their way frequently to his mouth.

I ask myself now whether we really had three fingers of sun left that day. Memory is a fickle thing: sometimes I see my fingers spread wide, fat wedges of pale gold light between them. But sometimes, when I wake in the dark quiet, I see only slashes of vivid red between fingers that were barely apart.

I walked away from him that day, away from the house, as I’d done so many times before. I left him there in the sparse, sharp grass, and I walked out toward the darkening horizon, wishing with everything in me that I could run to meet it, and half convinced I was going to try. I turned only once, and the last view I had of the house was of the windows reflecting the flat, endless plains like a mirror, and of Johannnes, stout in his blue coat, scraping together another friend.

*   *   *

There is nowhere Johannes could have gone. I don’t tell you that in exasperation, or to prove some kind of point; it’s simply the truth. The land out here is as flat as gets – there are no cracks or crevices he could fall into, no hidden rivers under the ice. No visitors came and went, and there were no tyre marks or foot prints, as though anyone could approach without us knowing, anyway.

In those endless days of afterwards, nobody came about Johannes. There was no one to come, and it was for the best. What could we have told them?

Mother retreated further into herself, knowing as well as I did that there was nowhere he could have gone. In the winter that followed, I caught her watching me sometimes, pale eyes glinting in the lamp light. She never said it, and neither did I. When the cancer took her two years later, she went quietly and I sat downstairs by the fire as her breathing rattled then failed. Wilhelm took her away when he came two weeks later, and that was that.

*   *   *

Now, when I stand on that rickety porch, I move outside myself somehow. I see Johannes and me, dark brush strokes on a canvas that would’ve been better without such bold marks made on it. We stretch down and away, shadows against the lilac snow, staring out to where we’ll never go, where the frozen Earth touches sky. I’m in front of him, longer, thinner than he is; his bundled shape pauses in the short grass, wondering whether to follow or let me go.

And when I lie in bed at night, feeling the weight of the heavens pressing down on the roof, I know that this life, this world, is just too big to hide anything forever. I wait for the crunch of footsteps on the icy snow – for another dark stroke to be made on this pale canvas. Maybe the snow isn’t as white as it looks. Who knows? I’m just telling you how it was. How it is.

 

 

Nothing that is not there, and nothing that is

Streetlight tree and snow
A blanket of new snow, soft and crisp and painted orange by street light. The engine rumbles beneath me as it idles, the heater only just starting to warm.

A young boy stands at the side of the road, hands by his sides and face to face with a snowman. A strange kind of creation, tall and thin, it narrows out towards the neck. No round head or friendly face, more a tower of tightly packed snow that tapers off into nothing.

I sit and watch through the fogged up windows. The road is quiet behind me, the snow untouched but for the tracks of my wheels. No footprints but those of the boy, whose small shadow stretches out behind him like silk. An echo of a question threatens to form before it drifts away again, out over the blanketed ground. This kind of snow swallows any sound at all.

As I sit there, watching the two of them, he begins to melt. It makes no sense at all; the temperature is still a few below zero. But he melts all the same, until the crooked, misshapen snowman is all that remains.

Photo by Flickr user Digital Sextant – used under Creative Commons

Visual Creative Writing Prompts #12 – Before Morning

This Visual Creative Writing Prompts post comes to you courtesy of me – of course! – and photographer Rob Evans, who, although primarily a portrait photographer, wanted to share these beautiful snowy nightscapes with you.

This is the first Visual Creative Writing Prompt post to be submitted rather than sought out but, once I saw the photos that Rob had taken, I was more than happy to include them.

There are a number of things that I love about these pictures, and that make them a rich hunting-ground for ideas. Firstly, the sense of anonymity – I don’t know where these pictures were taken and I deliberately didn’t ask. There are no people in the shots, no identifying marks, and nothing to distinguish these places from anywhere else.

The locations themselves evoke a sense of ephemerality – petrol pumps stand unused by the side of a dark road, footsteps lead off into the distance and train tracks stretch away to an unknown destination. There are signs of civilisation – cables, lights, buildings – but no actual life.

Could your character be on a journey, perhaps? Maybe it’s not your character who’s going somewhere – maybe everyone else has gone. Perhaps the places in the pictures represent a haven of safety, or perhaps these are not places for your character to stay.

The darkness against the soft snow in the images adds to the scene. Maybe the snow crept in before night fell, settling gently for days, piling up against the telephone booths and the railway sidings. Or perhaps the weather and the darkness arrived together – a storm that hit in the late afternoon. Does your character welcome the peace of nightfall, or is s/he counting the hours until – as we see in the final photograph – the sky starts to lighten once more? What will the next day bring? Will your character even be there to see it?

To me, these photos give off a certain unease – they represent a dangerous step on a long journey. I’d love to see what they inspire in you, and I’m hugely grateful to talented photographer Rob Evans for inviting me to share the images here for you creative creatures!

Visual Writing Prompts #8 – When white isn’t white at all

I spotted Wild Prairie Man, aka photographer James R. Page, on Flickr and wanted to share some of his beautiful shots with you to prove a very simple point: white isn’t white at all.

James captures the snowy landscapes in a way that adds a depth and colour to something that, to anyone with limited imagination, would just be a blank white canvas. The images aren’t even limited to a single palette: there are deep blues, touches of rich pink, pearly creams, burnt ochres and rich dove greys.

Not only do I like the images as visual creative writing prompts, I like them as a starting point for thinking about writing itself. As most writers know, being faced with a blank white page can be one of the most terrifying experiences. You could fill that page with literally anything, and the weight of the task ahead sometimes feels overwhelming.

And yet, look at what Wild Prairie Man has done with a blank white slate. All of the beautiful colours and textures in those images were there, waiting to be captured and enjoyed. Each of the pictures is filled with possibilities, even though none of them tells a whole story.

Even if you’ve only got a little something to say, and even if you don’t think you have anything to say right now, remember that white isn’t just white. A blank page isn’t blank; it’s filled with things that you just haven’t written down yet.

If you’ve been inspired by any of James’s beautiful photography, or any of my other visual creative writing prompts, why not send me what you’ve written and I’ll share it on the blog?