There wasn't much time left. It was a question of waiting for it to happen to him or making it happen himself, thereby insisting to the end that he had some control over his life.He wandered back to his studio and looked at the Battle of New Ulm. In the good white history books it was called the Massacre of New Ulm because the Sioux had won. Tonight it didn't seem to matter whether the painting was ever finished or not, whether the colors were right, or the bodies right or the horses right or the sky and ground right. Nothing seemed to matter tonight.Perhaps Becky was not at the cafe. Perhaps she was at the Witch Tree trying to determine how she could connect with the reality of life again. He looked out at the Great Lake that lay beyond him. In the darkness it was an indiscernible entity. The moon was disappearing behind clouds that looked heavy with snow. He put a new canvas up on the easel and prepared to work. There was a picture in his mind that had nothing to do with battles, dying soldiers or warriors or horses.He reached for a brush and blended the paints into a pale gray color tinged with blue. He worked the color onto the canvas, unaware of what he was painting until the first strokes defined the trunk of the Witch Tree. He watched with fascination as he painted, his unplanned, unbidden ideas growing on the canvas, undirected by him, directed by the grandfathers who lived in him, unknown until tonight, rejected until tonight. They had always known the Tree and now Joe knew it in his hands and his soul.Becky would know when she saw it. She would understand immediately what had happened, that he had finally come full circle and was in full harmony with his own past. It would save Becky and explain to her her own disconnectedness. The blues blended into blues, the gray-white fragility of the Tree interspersing the power of the sky, of the lake, of the land. Each stroke was surer, stronger, more definite as he pursued his vision, until finally, the effort of capturing that vision made his hand tremble and blurred his eyesight.He forced himself to stop. Becky would be home any minute now. Joe needed to clear his head before she got there. She would know that he was working in the studio when she arrived because it was the only room in the house in which there were lights. She would come looking for him and find the painting. She would come looking for him and find herself. He would give her five or ten minutes by herself to consider what it all meant. He went outside and climbed down the outside steps that led to their patio overlooking the lake. The lake was almost still in the mist of the evening. The red and gray boulders that lined the shore below him were lightly covered by snow that now fell softly on his head.Above him, in the house, lights went on, first in the front hall, then in the living room, then over the stairs and across the bridge. Joe smiled to himself. Becky was home. She always came home, finally.
Part 2. Becky
The ancient Tree was tormented beyond reason, twisted and pulled into a grotesque parody of a tree, a statement of life to be pondered again and again, one ponder to match each ring. Of course no one knew how many rings there were inside the tree. Only cutting it down would provide the answer. She did know that the first French explorers in the region had made note of the Tree hundreds of years before.