The Memory of Water


lyric essay from Laura Dennis


“Close your eyes,” the instructor said. “Now think about your green. This will be your green.”

Mine appeared so quickly that I wondered if had been waiting for me all along.

“Now take your plate and go get your paint.”

I picked up the blue plastic plate that was to serve as a palette. Water and sunlight make a lake, I thought. As if reading my mind, the teacher said, “Blue and yellow make green.” Then she added “…but what else might you need?”

I had no idea, so I followed my classmates’ lead and pumped dollops of black and white onto the empty spaces on my plate.

I know little about how art is made other than random facts learned in museums, books,  and school. I do, however, remember the color wheel. And I keep the memory of water with me wherever I go. 

Generally speaking, words are both my preferred medium and my muse. My friend Alisa, however, had talked me into taking this painting class, assuring me that neither experience nor ability were required. Still, my fingers shook slightly as they tried to find purchase on these unfamiliar tools. I breathed into the moment, letting the palette knife, like a pen, become an extension of my hand. I watched the colors swirl together, adding ever smaller dabs until, at last, my hand stilled in wonder. There it was, recollection made reality, almost as if I were sitting out on a dock, not in an art studio miles and worlds away.


Imitating the instructor’s deft wrist movements as best I could, I began applying my green to the canvas in broad, swooping strokes. Nostalgia unfurled as the canvas filled. Class picnics at Indian Pines. The splash of sodden sneakers during cross country practice at Red Jacket Park. Motor boats and inner tubes. Stolen kisses and broken hearts. The painting’s texture changed as memories flooded in. In the upper right-hand corner, where the teacher had used a smudge of black, I had, almost unconsciously, chosen a deep gemstone blue.

I floated in a comforting, deliquescent peace as I sipped a cup of coffee and looked at what I’d already done. The green expanse seemed to flow from that corner whose hue matched those elongated, glacier-cut sapphires known as the Finger Lakes. I thought back to the time I’d described them that way to a friend. Thoughtfully, she’d replied, “You know, I can see that… but for some reason, I’ve always thought of lakes as green.”


To read this entire story, pick up Issue Six of Bluff & Vine at Longs’ Cards and Books in Penn Yan, or by visiting

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