while ago I received an intriguing article from an artist named
Amy Bernays. The story (in words and images) is about a very
eventful, frigid journey which resulted in what she refers to
as “Kennedy Meadows Ice paintings.” I wrote back
to Amy and asked her to tell me a little bit about herself and
CABIN by AMY BERNAYS
father built this cabin with his own hands in the 1960s. It
has no electricity or running water, is nestled up a 25 mile,
single track canyon road.
watched as the dash display blinked out the temperature. Twenty
seven Fahrenheit at the turn off to the lonely road, 26 as the
sky drained of the lingering light, 23 as the Joshua trees held
on to the steep slope, 20 as the dry desert gravel banked with
snow. Several tracks were cut into the afternoon dusting on
the road. And then 17 and still dropping and the slush was black,
The little car
beeped and the green temperature gage was joined by a yellow
flashing skidding sign. The speedometer stayed level but we
slowed as the tires lost the battle for traction. We slipped,
we skidded, we revved and then we came to stop, perched on the
black ice like stilettos on glass. And the car started to slowly
There is no rail
on the side of this road, just a few boulders and banks of snow
from a past plow, and no way to tell the difference between
the two. Behind that, just a steady grade of loose rocks and
century plants tumbling down to the desert floor. I jumped out
of the car. My boots slipped on the black. With thermals, jeans
and three sweaters, a coat, hat and gloves the cold bit into
me like a black snake. It rasped at my cheeks and pushed me
down the slope.
Rush rush, gathering
the chainsaw from the back yard, paper to paint on, linens to
sleep in. We were almost late for the fifteen mile an hour traffic
jam and the gray rain that greeted us on the highway. We sat
behind a socking big rig and looked into the windows of the
other cars, skis on roofs, bored children with messy faces,
too many college kids in one car, smoking. The rain chilled
and, as we started to climb into the high desert, it started
to snow, then hail, then snow again.
“Do you have
a paint brush?” I asked. She cocked her head, pursed her
lips and looked up into the recesses of her mental stock list.
She shook her head. The shop was attached to the three gas pumps
on the side of the road. She had thin brown hair and it was
scraped back into a kinked ponytail, the florescent light flickering
green on her smiling rosy face.
catcher key chains and laminated roadmaps fluttered behind the
cash register as ice air came in through the old wooden door.
“Not to sell,”
she qualified. “My kids have a box of that kind of thing,”
and then she called over the chipped counter to the big man
sitting in the plastic booth. He wore a thick red checked jacket
with worn elbow patches and a ‘Fish Fear Me’ baseball
cap. Three kids of varying stickiness fidgeted in the slippery
red bench, eating chips and toys. “Honey, can you grab
that box of art stuff from round back?”
He said something
while I thanked her, and Brad (my fiancé) honked the
car from the gas pump. The sky and all the desert around us
was turning blue and cold was rolling in.
got to it. We have a toy painting set,” she offered. I
fingered through the plastic coyotes, snow globes and Cheetos.
It was hung at the back, plastic and pink and I paid my $2.99
for a set of Venetian masks, a pot of blue, red, and yellow
paint and a plastic stick with twenty strands of nylon sticking
out the top of it. Yeah!
We had to hike the
last mile to the cabin. We made it over Big Pine Pass in the
footsteps of past 4 x 4s and a little way cutting our own tracks
along the trail from the Federal road. But once the drifts in
the trees and the winding hillocks set in we were buried.
The little stove
that is the only source of heat in the one room cabin pours
out warmth. The logs boiling with sap fill the room with the
mnemonic smell of pinion pine and holidays. With an icicle,
we stir a cocktail from an old bottle of vodka that we found
on the shelf. We were warm and tired and happy to be 7000 feet
We both tossed and
turned after we had fallen into bed. A headache and
nausea now overcame me; when I stood up, I immediately stumbled
and fell back. The room was thick, my head spinning; something
was very wrong.
Altitude, bad old
vodka, monoxide? I opened all the doors and windows
in the cabin. We hid under the covers, the weight of all the
blankets and sleeping bags I could find pushing down on us.
The flickering light from the stove that tried to burn a little
warmth was whisked away by the coldest night that flooded in.
Rustling from outside
mingled in my mind with monsters and bears, hiding in the shadows
out the open door. “Where’s the gun?” I whispered
and I slipped into sleep.
I ached from shivering
as the brightest sun bounded about; glimmering on every melting
icicle and blue tits sang, steaming through the snow-laden limbs
and crisp bacon on the stove. With hot coffee and too much food
unloaded from our stranded car, I wore every piece of clothing
I had brought.
Fortified, I marched
up the hill, and with stick that passed for a paint brush I
painted the world. Below I could hear Brad towing out the car
with the ’61 pickup, revving and swearing merrily.
Shards of ice formed
The wind cooled
the watercolour I was painting with, freezing the brush
to the paper and growing ice shards in the pool of blue that
was my darkening sky.
the general store came by for drinks. I stared longingly at
the bearded man’s snowshoes as the boys talked about the
next storm. It was debated whether it was wise to drive the
little car to the Federal Road, which is plowed even on Sundays.
The pros and cons went on past dusk and it was decreed that
if it snowed, then that would be a good course of action.
The stove chewed
through wood for a second night. My sleepy eyes left the warmth
of the cabin and out through the window onto the world. The
silent morning was billowing in fat snowflakes, drifting onto
the forest like feathers
“Shit. I jumped
from the bed and started pulling on long johns. “It’s
One eye opened from under the covers, warm against the cool
smoke cabin air. “How much?”
We both began leaping
about the cabin putting on thermal underwear,
hats, gloves and jeans, about in that order and began the long
of Amy's remarkable work, visit her website: www.bernays.moonfruit.com