Christina’s World Knows the Ocean

Christina’s World: Andrew Wyeth
Christina imagined the ocean beyond the withering grass, the yellow hilltop, the gray house just above her vision.  
On the shore she would lift herself up without the fear of falling.
Her hair was swept back by the considerate breeze. Her white dress flew backwards resisting the wind’s effort to delineate her body.
The tidal pool caressed her ankles, swirling sand and water poking her with the same dull prodding of the chesuncook and oat grass she crawled through back in Cushing, a touch that reminded her dead legs that the world was still startling alive.
The tide washed out and she could feel its force sweeping her away. She stepped back lest she fall and drown.
Two sea stacks about the length of her body and separated by two more lengths of her formed a small cove around her. Just beyond a riptide was forming a blue curl in the ocean breeze. Further, a red buoy bobbed, the mast of a long abandoned child’s schooner shipwrecked on its float.
There was danger everywhere, but there was also freedom, and that made Christina want to dance in the rising moon.
Yet, she stood there silent through the night until the yellow-green refraction of the sun graced the waves and the trawlers emerged sailing slowly away beyond the lighthouse, her line of sight, until the last blue ship sailed into the blossoming red sky and beyond the horizon.
Christina didn’t know whether the trawlers would return with their live-wells bulging with lobster or if the Atlantic’s fury would cast them to the briny deep.
She just dreamed of living in her yellow brick house with the red tiled roof built just beyond the rocky shore.
There would be vases full with Queen Anne’s Lace, Lady Slippers, Lilies of the Valley, Jack -in-the-Pulpits, Spring Beauties, Touch-Me-Nots, Morning Glories, Heal Alls, Speedwells, and Dutchman Breeches- her every delight, hope, fear and desire all collected from the fields she would wander and placed neatly on small escritoires near every window.
One day she would pick up a sheet of fine-lined paper and notice the delicate Rosemary scent of a Heal All and write a sad story about a lobsterman’s wife awaiting the never return of her husband.
Another day it would be an observation in her nature journal on violets bending in the breeze and the green waves beyond when the slightest brush of her hand caused some Touch-Me-Nots to fold up and remain closed. By night they had re-blossomed.
There would be more: aubades written on the back of a checked off shopping list, monostiches on the delight of wriggling her toes, the caress of oat grass on her ankles when she walked, the light brush of a butterfly’s kiss.
Here it was endless life and endless inspiration.
Yet, everyday it would pull back.
The ocean receded to a bay, the bay a lake, the lake a pond, the pond a puddle, the puddle to a single drop that turned gray, became dirt, became Cushing.
She thirsted, fainted, fell down and when she awoke
there was the withered oat grass, the dull stubble of the chesuncook and the long crawl to the gray manor beyond the top of hill. She could see her brother, Alvaro
encouraging and waving her home.
On Sunday Mr. Wyeth would paint her again.

Anna Christina Olson (1893 to 1968) was a lifelong resident of Cushing, Maine, and the farm where she lived is pictured in “Christina’s World.” She had a degenerative muscular disorder that took away her ability to walk by the late 1920s. Eschewing a wheelchair, she crawled around the house and grounds.

Andrew Wyeth, who had summered in Maine for many years, met the spinster Olson and her bachelor brother, Alvaro, in 1939. The three were introduced by Wyeth’s future wife, Betsy James (b. c. 1922), another long-term summer resident. It’s hard to say what fired the young artist’s imagination more: the Olson siblings or their residence. Christina appears in several of the artist’s paintings.