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Mother Nature painted a frosty landscape

You missed the show snowbirds. If you weren't here the first week in February, you missed the show. While you were riding around in your golf buggies down there in Arizona, California, Texas and Florida, we had three or four days of fog and frost like we've rarely seen. The wind didn't blow and it just held on day after day.

When it came to painting landscapes, there were many masters: Matisse, Poussin, Constable, Rousseau and Wyeth were just a few -- but all are now dead.

Who are the master landscape artists of 2012? One foggy morning last week I started a short journey of about 40 miles in the dark. The fog was heavy and as I drove along, the first signs of daylight began to filter through the haze. Slowly I came to the realization that the most enduring master landscape painter of all was still alive and had been painting landscapes all night long.

I drove through his gallery in wonder. I experienced the entire landscape in silhouette behind an eerie, mysterious, surreal filter, like the steam lifting off a freezing lake.

The master used only variations of black, white, gray, green and brown. A masterpiece requires no more. One scene was a sliver of an open creek trickling between banks of snow. The water was the color of lead. The trunk of a dead tree was poised over the creek, peering down into the frigid water to take the measure of any fish slithering through.

Next was an old wooden gate swung across a snow-covered trail. The top beam of the gate was about two and a half inches wide, but the artist had painted a narrow ridge of snow balanced on top of the beam as deep as the width of the beam. And there it perched, sprinkled as softly as if spread by a flour sifter.

The towering pine trees in the next scene had tufts of snow stacked on their branches as if lain there gently, one flake at a time, by fingers skilled enough to perform brain surgery.

And the cold, stark, bare branches of trees without needles or leaves were covered by a frost so fragile that a sparrow landing on a twig could have dislodged it. The frost on those trees made you feel it had been feathered on by a softer, more delicate force of nature: Grandmother Frost.

One clump of brush near the road concealed a deer. I couldn't see the deer or any deer tracks, I just sensed the presence of a deer. It was standing there motionless, seeing but not being seen.

An old barn, no longer red, but gray, no longer used, but empty, never big, but now looking smaller than ever, the loft open and cold, the roof, thin and sagging, stood there abandoned, lonely and silent with a thin layer of snow on the very top.

The artwork continued: a farmhouse, a cabin, a fence, a hill, a cemetery. All simple, all brilliant.

As the darkness surrendered gradually to the dawn, the scenes passed by as if behind frosted glass, and the light of the day revealed one breathtaking landscape after another passing before my eyes. Alone and soundless, except for my own murmurs of awe, I experienced a private audience of paintings that will never be framed and a gallery that cannot be fit inside doors and between walls. It was another demonstration of the continuing creation by the greatest of all landscape artists -- the first, the last -- and still alive.