Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Cloudy Day 1895

Levitan's Lyrical Landscapes have wonderful powers which may: 

  • call forth a memory, perhaps long forgotten, 
  • carry a suggestion for some new direction, 
  • invite a day dream or night dream,
  • inspire personal creativity.

Discovering Levitan's Cloudy Day, I was immediately reminded of a third-grade day in 1959 when Mrs. Balbo taught us about clouds. I think of it more as a  class about imagining than about science. Needing some help understanding the painting, a weather-friend refreshed my memory:

"These are strato-cumulus clouds, which are a low layer of clumped or broken gray masses. They typically cover the sky, but between them we might see patches of blue. In terms of weather, they look worse than they are; usually bringing only drizzle, but stormy weather may occur at the front or tail end."

Levitan's formidable clouds are on the move. The wind is stirring up the waters which remain reflective. Maybe we can even hear the wind! We see two tidy farmer-fields and forest on the lake's far side. The leaning grasses growing near the water's edge on the left, help us to feel this weather. A little bit of blue sky remains on the horizon.

I mentioned the other day that if the teacher wasn't talking about religion, plants or animals, I was gone. So of course, I had to go to summer school for arithmetic in 6th grade. Listening to the phone conversation from the dining room, while Sister told my mother of my failure, was like the front-end of Levitan's threathening weather: dark clouds portending a terrific storm of sadness, misery and ruin. Problem: my family had arranged a cottage for two weeks up in Maine on Rangeley Lake. 

Rather than allow my failure to spoil the trip for everyone, my father packed the five siblings into the station-wagon and off they went, leaving mother and me behind to catch up after my final. Many years later she told me it hadn't dawned on her she'd be without a car, until she saw the Pontiac disappear down the road. But one summer evening, we both got on bicycles and peddled to a restaurant about a mile away for dinner together. The apocalyptic storm was over head, but dropping only drizzle, indeed there was already this lovely patch of blue.  

Having had the teacher stand over me while I worked on my fractions, I completed my summer school successfully. A patch of blue in the low, gloomy sky. A neighbor-lady drove us to the airport where we walked across the tarmac and up the stairs to the little prop plane - my first flight. Another patch of blue. And Maine, on a lake surrounded by forest, wild weather and animals! The strato-cumulus clouds of failure had covered me, threatening an awful storm. But it wasn't as bad as I'd imagined it would be - more like drizzle and with patches of blue. 

Not all, but a lot of life is like that.

Rangeley Lake, Maine


  1. I love the idea of using a painting to call out a memorable experience. A beautiful reflection Father Stephen. Thank you for sharing your childhood memory with us all.

  2. Sometimes just in glancing at the image, a memory is called forward. It's very wonderful! Childhood memories which can be tucked away can be very valuable.

  3. Upon first glance, the clouds do look ominous, yet after taking a closer look, one can clearly see the blue between the lumpy clouds. Brighter times ahead. Things can always look better given the time.

  4. "Hindsight is 20/20" it's said. We see things most clearly looking back over time. Sometimes it's many years before we can say, "Ah, that's what was going on" or "Ah that's why that happened." Often, when we come to realize the presence of God we might spontaneously utter, "Ah!"

  5. Yes, life seems to have its times of turbulence but then that patch of blue that comes intermittently with graces promised to continue this journey to find peace with God and ourselves. I am really getting pleasure out of these paintings.

  6. I'm glad for the connection. Levitan left us over 1000 works. I've got the next thirty six set aside and even an Easter time overflow.