On one of my forest walks, I came upon an elderly gentleman who was standing by the trail, gazing up at a gnarly bigleaf maple. It was one of those Seattle-summer days when the sun comes out unexpectedly, and after weeks of dismal gray, the world was in full-color once again. The whole forest was glowing.
As I passed, the man tipped his hat to me in a polite, old-fashioned way that seemed out-of-place in West Seattle. He must be from a foreign country. Or at least, a foreign time.
“You know what I wish?” he asked, smiling. “I wish I was an artist. I wish I could paint this!” He swept his hand across the lovely scene.
I stood with him for a moment admiring the lumpy, twisted old maple. The sunlight was filtering through the leafy canopy, falling in streaks against the brilliant moss-covered trunk. I imagined painting the tree, how I would drag brushloads of sap green over raw umber to capture the colors and play of light.
I was just about to share my art-thoughts with him when I noticed his eyes had teared up a little. “I want to remember this tree,” he said. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, but by the time I get home, I’ll have forgotten. It’ll all be lost…like it never existed. If I was an artist, I could paint this and take it home with me. I’d have it forever.”
I realized we weren’t really talking about art at all, but about how it feels when things we love slip away. Was he afraid his beautiful world was disappearing…being erased into blankness?
He was still standing with the old maple when I continued on my walk. I hope he remembers his tree.
I wish I had painted it for him.
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