Hand trowel


            Clyde Christensen, a Kansas farmer, retires and takes up painting.  He is told to paint what is around him, what he knows.  He buys oil paints—brown, black, green and blue.  He soon tires of what he is painting, in the same way he tired of farming, the hours spent on a green tractor, riding a black road to a field where he disked brown soil beneath a blue sky.
            He decides, as he puts it, to “get off the tractor for good.”  He spends days on foot in his fields.  He finds them more black than brown, shaded with charcoals, yellows, even blues.  He takes to the woods along Olsburg Creek.  There, butterflies are spots of color, purple changing to rust with each wing beat.  A black snake edges through rocks on a creamy yellow belly, its forest green sides turning to a brown so deep it might have been a piece of leather in the bottom of a well.
            Clyde buys tubes of colors, some of them with names he’s never said aloud.  He mixes them together and uses a trowel to lay a thick layer onto a large canvas.  He penetrates that layer of paint with a garden rake, then a clawed hoe. He digs out lines, each line infused with beauty—trailings of black and salmon, flecks of red and blue, greens giving way to yellows and browns.  When he believes he can reveal no more, he creates another, and another.  And brings them to an art fair.
            “What is that?” folks ask him.  And ask him again as they view each of his plowed canvases.
            “It’s a painting,” he says.  “They’re oil paintings.”
            “Of course,” they say.  “But of what?”
            Clyde shrugs his shoulders.  After all, he’s just a farmer.

 "Cultivation" first appeared in New Letters







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