The Mystery Woman Kept Walking

The wind was whipping the snow into a silent haze, turning distant brownstones a muted gray. As the storm built in intensity, a darkly clad figure approached. Down the path by the river she walked, draped in a long, cowled cloak, alone.

Her gloved hands swung determinedly as she strode along; no bags, no dog, no companion to slow her pace, just a strong steady gait in the eye of the storm.

It could be the opening scene to some classic black-and-white movie, one of those 1940s-style epic romances set in turn-of-the-century Boston. The heroine is escaping an oppressive household, so resolved to flee that she is oblivious to the elements and, in her haste, has left all possessions behind.

The timelessness and stark simplicity of her monk-like silhouette against the dimming sky give it a depth that pulls at the imagination. Who was she? Where was she going, hooded and empty-handed?

These were questions photographer Bill Grant asked even as he discreetly shot her picture during a heavy snowfall earlier this year. Yes, earlier this year. Not 100 years ago, not even 50.

So what creates this timelessness? The contour of the skyline might be one factor here, since it has changed little over the last century - apartment blocks sandwiched tightly together, squeezing out innovation. The monotone figure offers no fashion clues - no stylish synthetic ski jacket or plastic boots - to date the decade.

But more than these, it is the snow. Snow has no respect for time or place. It acts like a filter, blunting the edges of modernity into a seamless, ageless tableau.

One is reminded of the Iceman, our five-thousand-year-old friend from the Italian Alps, who was making his way through the mountains when he wandered into a sudden snowstorm.

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