When I helped Jenny Wild put together her book on the history of Alpine, we spent a lot of time going through old photos, deciding which would be used with the text.

One of the photos totally captivated me from the moment I saw it. It was a snapshot of Arthur Forbes and his road grader, taken in the 1920s. Arth, as Jenny explains in her book, for years was in charge of grading many of the roads in the north end of the county, both summer and winter.The photo was taken after a major storm by Rose Healey, who had run out into the snow to chronicle Arth's passing.

Arth, who has stopped the scraper for a moment and turned from his high platform to face the camera, in a whimsical gesture tips his hat toward the photographer. Out on the front of the scraper sits young Ralph Strong, guiding the three teams of horses. He, too, is turned slightly toward the camera, patiently smiling as he holds the teams in abeyance. The horses have great volumes of steam rising from hot, sweaty bodies as they rest for a moment in the chilly air. Riding the lead horse, a third person, young Fred Forbes, Arth's son, is seen, barely visible through the mist.

I knew this photo had deep personal significance, though I didn't know why. I had long since learned, however, that when something makes such a profound impression, it is important to make note of it - to keep it in one's consciousness until the more subtle aspects of its meaning might emerge from the depths of an often more meaningful subconscious awareness.

And that is exactly what has happened, though it has taken many years before I could write about it with clarity.

Briefly, what I have realized is that the photo of Arth Forbes and his scraper is a metaphor of my own personal perspective of the world as I believe, or hope to believe, it might be.

In fact, three or four years ago I began a painting based on the photograph and, in the process, realized that the man on the scraper is the likeness of God, as I envision him to be - a warm and fatherly figure, looking down at me from a high, mechanized, treehouse-like perch on which he moves through timeless whiteness, clearing snow and chartering avenues through the backroads of an endless universe.

This particular moment, the moment after a deep and debilitating storm, is like the day of judgment that we talk about in Christian theology. Unlike a judgment, however, where some roads lead to glory and others to damnation, I envision a scene more like a moment of clearing away, of pushing to the side vague masses of confusion that blur our progress.

This is affirmed in the way it feels as if God has taken time to stop in the midst of his passing to acknowledge my presence. He tips his hat to me and I am comforted by this presence; that, though conscious of my vulnerability, he truly cares for me, and will always come and save me from myself and the frightening mysteries of the universe over which I have no control.

I have not felt comfortable about the painting, however, and over the past three years have pulled it out to work on it many times - even framing it at one point - only to put it back in storage with a feeling of incompleteness.

This last time, however, has brought changes that seem to make the image more accurate. It was as if the man on the scraper was too dominant before, overpowering the composition. So I took that image out completely, which then made the figure of Ralph on the front of the scraper the major focus, and the vague image of Fred out on the lead horse a bit more distinct, though still indefinite. Like images from the Trinity, they guide the affairs of humankind in the absence of the Father.

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But it did seem a bit uncomfortable to remove Arth completely from the scene.

This morning I placed a few blue-shadowed footprints in the lower right-hand corner of the painting for composition's sake. Immediately, balance seemed right - not only balance in terms of the painting's format, but also in terms of where God is in my life.

As time goes on, I become more consoled that he might be out there somewhere, though to see him so clearly that he might tip his hat toward me might be too much to ask.

It is enough to see the image of his footprints in the snow, to know that he has been here and will come again, or will be there in that moment when I cross over, to comfort and to love me, as I have struggled to learn to love myself and others while stranded in this blizzard of mortality, waiting for someone to clear the snow away - after the Great Storm.

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