I thought it was simple, turn back the way I had come, follow the blue diamonds posted on the trees and the tracks in the snow. This I thought would lead me back to the trailhead after a pleasant afternoon of painting. That was at 5 p.m.—it was still light then. Now it is past 8 p.m. and dark and I have got no closer to finding my way out of the wilderness.
Dead mossy branches jut out from the pine trees around me. A cracked tree stump protrudes at an acute angle out of the snow. From these I see fuel and shelter and decide to make camp here for the night.
I have not planned for an overnight stay in the wilderness so have no tent or sleeping bag. I remove my backpack, pull out the different items from it. A painting umbrella, my canvases, paint palette all get utilized on one side of the tree stump, creating a barricade from the wind. My snowshoes interlaced with pine branches become shutters on its opposite side. The ground covered in snow, I overlay with moss-covered branches.
The moon rises through the trees leaving splashes of light on the snow. Stars of pristine clarity in the clear air shine through the breaks in the trees. The wind picks up and then subsides.
It is too cold to sleep. I collect branches, and from an ailing tree, crumbling bark. I build a fire. The pine branches snap like fire crackers, the resinous bark spits and smokes, exuding a strong smell of incense.
I am thirsty from the hours of hiking with a heavy pack, but have little water left. I take my metal paint canister, empty it of mineral spirits and the sludge of paint deposits. I wash it out as best I can and fill it with snow. This I place in the fire, the metal handle glowing red, the snow hissing as it turns to water. I drink the Smokey snow-melt trying not to think too deeply about the effects of heavy metals—the residues of previous painting expeditions still contained within the canister.
Slowly the snow melts underneath the fire. The heat recedes as the fire descends ever deeper into a snow crater. I build a new fire, then another and so the night proceeds. Occupied by this task I am kept warm and comforted through flame and physical activity of collecting fire wood.
Twilight comes, a long overdue owl hoots in the gathering light. I pack up my things and hike down into a snow-clad meadow. The sun rises. The shadows of the pines indicate like a compass my bearings, and in turn, the northerly direction I must take to find my way out of this winter wilderness.