'All I See'

Story Time

August 22, 1999|By Cynthia Rylant

Editor's note: When a young boy befriends an artist who paints only whales, he learns to see life a bit differently.

There once was a man named Gregory who spent his days beside a lake painting pictures. He wore an old gray raincoat when he painted, and two brushes were tucked behind his ears. Sometimes as he worked he also whistled Beethoven's Fifth Symphony very loudly, waving his brush in the air through the exciting parts. Gregory's white cat lay beside him, sleeping through it all, the painting and the symphony.

A boy named Charlie who summered at the lake used to watch Gregory paint and whistle and drift in his canoe with his cat. Charlie had decided he was fond of Gregory, though they had never met.

One day when Gregory was out in his canoe, Charlie sneaked a look at the picture Gregory was painting.

Charlie was surprised by what he saw, by what Gregory had painted as he looked at Charlie's lake.

But the picture made Charlie like Gregory even more.

So each day when Gregory drifted away, Charlie sneaked a look. And each day Charlie saw the same thing: a blue whale. Sometimes the whale was diving in deep water, sometimes it was leaping up out of the water, sometimes it was upside down. But it was always a whale.

And Charlie became fond of whales, too.

But one morning when Gregory was away, Charlie found nothing on the canvas. No painting. No whale. No picture for Charlie.

So while Gregory drifted far off down the lake, staring at the sea-blue sky and humming Beethoven's Fifth, Charlie picked up a brush.

He left his picture there for Gregory. Charlie was too shy, and afraid, to stay.

When he paddled back to shore, Gregory was astonished to find a painting on his easel. He was even more astonished to see himself in the painting, standing at the easel, white cat sleeping, and musical notes bouncing all over the sky.

Gregory sat and stared at that painting for a long time.

The next day when Gregory went far off down the lake, Charlie again sneaked a look and again found no blue whale. But this time, painted on Gregory's canvas were these words:

I LIKED THE PICTURE

Charlie picked up the brush. He was smiling and his heart pounded as he painted:

THANK YOU

Again, he was too shy, and afraid, to stay.

The following day there was a new message:

PLEASE STAY!

So Charlie stayed. And when Gregory paddled back to shore, he wiped his hands on his old gray raincoat, shook Charlie's hand, and introduced Stella, his cat.

For many days after that, Gregory and Charlie were at the lake together. Gregory taught Charlie about shadows and light, about line, about drawing things near and things far away.

And, of course, Gregory allowed Charlie to paint.

Then one day Gregory waited for Charlie with a gift. He had brought for Charlie an easel of his own, and new brushes, and new paints, and clean canvases.

They stood side by side then, that day, brushes tucked behind their ears, painting. Gregory painted a blue whale floating in seaweed full of tiny pink fish. Charlie painted whatever he saw.

And at the end of the day, Charlie finally asked Gregory why he painted only whales.

Gregory's face opened up into an enormous smile. He looked out across the water and he said, "It is all I see." He smiled for a long time.

Charlie, too, looked out across the water, and he knew Gregory's whales were there somewhere. He also knew that something was waiting for him, waiting to be seen and to be painted.

From ALL I SEE by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto. Text copyright c 1988 by Cynthia Rylant. Illustrations copyright c 1988 by Peter Catalanotto. Reprinted by permission of Orchard Books.

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