23 07, 2017

The Fruits of Your Influence

2017-11-17T15:33:20+00:00

I got up very early this morning to spend some extra time in solitude on the dock at this Adirondack paradise. It’s my last Sunday here for this summer. It’s a little cloudy this morning, and there is a dimness to the light and a coolness to the air. The distant sound of loons crying out their eerie tune maybe be a reflection of the melancholy feeling I get each year when I leave here.

Though I hate leaving, I love looking forward to coming back. That feeling buys me hope through a school year filled with activities, work responsibilities, and business trips. Knowing I won’t leave the lake during the summer makes everything somehow more worthwhile the rest of the year.

Yesterday in the car, Laurie and I were having a discussion about what the contents should be of a book I want to write. I’ve decided to write another book because I’ve not yet written an art-related book (though I’ve produced many art marketing videos) and because I’ll soon be on a television show about art that will be distributed worldwide. I see all of it as a chance to spread my mission.

“You should write about inspiration,” she said. “People always tell me you’ve inspired them to do something. And your book should be a little something for everyone, since you are not only helping people discover painting, you’re working with experienced painters and beginners, and with art collectors.”

She got me thinking. Since my goal is to teach a million people to paint, and since my life was changed by painting, I wondered what I could do to inspire more people to paint. After all, a show with millions of viewers might help me quickly ramp up my goal of helping a million people to discover painting.

Often when I’m outside painting I’ll encounter people who say things like, “I wish I could do that, but I don’t have any talent. I can’t even draw stick figures.” Of course, I always try to convince them that painting is a process they can learn. And that gets me remembering my own story.

Though I had some exposure to acrylic and watercolor as a child thanks to my artistic mother, it was not till Laurie bought me an art lesson for my 40th that I got interested again.

I had learned of a teacher in my area who studied in the tradition of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), a French painter and sculptor. Gérôme had taught Filadelfo Simi (1849-1923), who taught his daughter Nerina (Nera) Simi (1890-1987), who taught my teacher (and many other greats) in Florence. This teacher had also studied with Robert Hale Ives Gammell (1893-1981) and Frank J. Reilly (1906-1967), names I was unaware of at the time. But I was impressed that this guy had good training.

I remember the Saturday morning I visited the Armory Arts Center in West Palm Beach. After parking in the back lot, I walked in the door of this room, looked around at all the work the students were doing, told myself I could never get to that level of painting, and turned around and walked out.

“Yoo-hoo, can I help you?” were the words I heard as I was walking out the door.

“Oh, hi,” I said. “I heard this would be a good class to take, but after seeing what these people are painting, I could never do that, so I decided to leave.”

The man introduced himself as Jack Jackson, the teacher, and told me that if I gave him 18 months, he could have me producing work as good as the work I was seeing. He said, “Come over here,” and without even asking me if I wanted to stay, told me, “Sit here. Take this photo and make a grid like this on top of it.” Then he proceeded to show me how to transfer a drawing from a grid to a canvas.

After we did that, he showed me how to paint a grayscale tonal painting of the black-and-white photo I had just transferred onto the canvas. He was smart. He didn’t let me go, and he instantly got me engaged. I stayed in his classes for five years, until I moved away. He died shortly after and he never saw the fruits of his influence.

Think about this for just a moment. If I had slipped out of that classroom unnoticed and had told myself that I could never do that quality of work, I would have missed the last 22 years of great joy.

Not only did I take up painting, my eyes were opened to a whole new world. Suddenly I had an appreciation for art like never before. In fact, a seminal moment in my life was when I was on vacation and visited the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco and saw The Broken Pitcher by Bouguereau, and I wept. I wept because, after studying and copying the artist’s work, seeing it in person was overwhelming. I now had a small taste of what it took to accomplish such mastery, a mastery I had not begun to touch. I was amazed at the figure’s feet, which were at eye level, and the fine veins on her forearms. No piece of art had ever touched me this way.

I never would have gone to see or appreciated this piece of art with the eyes of an artist had my eyes not been opened for me by Jack Acetus Jackson (1935-2001).

We rarely know the fruits of our influence over others. In my case, Jack exposed me to painting, academic painting, and gave me an appreciation for the academic realism movement that was just beginning at that time.

Because I make my living as a publisher, Jack’s influence led me into the art publishing world, resulting in Fine Art Connoisseur, PleinAir, Artists on Art, Fine Art Today, PleinAir Today, the Plein Air Convention & Expo, the Figurative Art Convention & Expo (which I’m dedicating to Jack), plus all of our training videos.

My life was enriched by this man’s being alert, not letting me out the door, and encouraging me and giving me confidence that I could learn to paint when I felt I had zero talent.

Once in awhile I’ll hear from someone who tells me I had an impact on their life and I didn’t even know it. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not. One person recently called me on the carpet because I had unknowingly discouraged her a few years ago with something I said. I felt awful. Others have told me of things I didn’t even remember saying that set them off on a new path.

Our words and actions matter. By being alert, by having a spirit of generosity and a desire to help all people, we will, hopefully, find a natural instinct to encourage others.

I had not thought about this story of Jack Jackson pulling me into the class for a long time, but it was that one action that changed my entire life and led me into an art career. I owe him so much. My only regret is his not knowing what happened, and never knowing it was because of him.

This is the very reason I’m driven to teach a million people to paint. My eyes and heart were opened as an artist and I blossomed in new ways because Jack said, “Yoo-hoo, can I help you?” — and because he realized I did not believe in myself and that he could help me.

One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received from a human was the gift I received from Jack Jackson. He did not do it for personal gain, he did it because he loved art and wanted others to discover it.

What about you this Sunday morning?

What are you doing to encourage and support others?

What gifts do you have that you can share?

There is no greater gift than encouragement and helping people see something in themselves that they could not see before.

Here’s to a week of encouragement for others … starting today.

The Fruits of Your Influence 2017-11-17T15:33:20+00:00
15 07, 2017

The Comfort of Tradition

2017-11-17T15:34:55+00:00

This morning as I opened my eyes and looked out the window, my sleepy gaze was filled with the abstract shapes and 50 shades of green pine branches and needles.

Our bedroom here in the cabin in the woods, near the lake, is a converted screened porch, all glass, and nestled among the trees. It’s like being in a see-through tent outdoors.

Light is kissing the edges of the branches as the sun streams down upon them, and the red pine needles who have left home fill the floor of the woods, making a soft, squishy, silent carpet for bears, red foxes, and chubby little woodchucks.

Standing guard over the woods is the mammoth trunk of a 60-foot pine, well over 600 years old, riddled with history, its branches reaching out so far they cover the house like the arms of a loving great-grandmother protecting her family.

I’m hearing the high-pitched tweets of hatchlings in their nests in sunrise alarm, training.

A comforting sip of my coffee soothes my soul; its warmth fills my inner self.

My cup, a sap green, somewhat 1960s-modern style, is my favorite, and has been used on every summer morning here in this house since 1987. As odd as it sounds, it’s one of the things that brings me comfort in this Adirondack home in the words. We get attached to objects that bring us comfort, like this cup, like this house, like these woods and this lake, rich with history, like no others on earth.

Each year about this time, when we see signs that our time here will soon be winding down, I begin to experience a tinge of sadness, because this is the only place we consider our generational family home.

It’s the place the kids have played every summer of their lives. It’s filled with memories of grandpa’s prayers at family dinners, the kids taking their first boat rides, rope swings over the lake, the laughter around the table of family members who are no longer with us, the christening of a new family-heirloom boat by my 92-year-old grandmother, first times fishing and catching frogs for my now-grown niece and nephew, building forts in the woods, playing Monopoly on rainy days, and canoe trips across the lake. The kids are 15 now, but it seems just yesterday we were bathing all three in the giant wrought-iron footed bathtub that has served families in this house for well over 100 years.

This place has been the inspiration for countless paintings and photographs, with its color-filled sunsets, historic sailboat races, the grumbling old engines of the wooden boats, lapping water sounds on canoe trips, and the crunch of twigs under our feet on walks through the woods.

I know I talk about this place a lot, and it may be tiring for you, but this place has been my muse for three decades. Hemingway had Havana; for me, it’s the Adirondacks. Dreams of coming here get me through stressful years, knowing that when June comes, we can return to this place that not only grounds us, it slows us down, pulling us together in ways that don’t occur the rest of the year. It gives the kids deep memories of months of time with their grandfather and other family members, and it even draws them, and us, closer together. As I look back on when my father discovered this special place, almost 30 years ago, I realize it slowed us all down, brought all closer, and in some ways saved our family.

I’ll admit a bit of envy of the families on this lake who have somehow managed to hold on to their family homes for 120 years or more in spite of out-of-control taxes and the massive expenses that can come with the brutal winters.There is comfort walking into those drafty old cabins and seeing portraits on the walls, knowing that these are the faces of women and men who spent their vibrant youth, and their entire lives, in this tradition-filled place, from birth to death, like several generations before them.

Their parlors are filled with fading photos of happy moments at these lake places, where families who sometimes don’t see one another all year gather, just like Thanksgiving but for whole summers together. There is something soothing to the soul knowing that relatives from the past, many of whom you never met, experienced the summers of their lives here, and it could go on for another hundred years or more. These are truly homes shared by the generations; those who built them gave their families a great gift and are honored for it — 120, 140 years later, or more. It is a rare gift indeed.

But homes don’t always remain in a family forever. I was sad when my dad moved us out of the little brown ranch house of our childhood on Indiana Avenue in Fort Wayne to his dream house, and sad when I grew up and left that house. I was sad when my grandparents sold the homes where we’d played on their stairs and explored secret treasures in their basements. And I’ll be sad when this place is no longer in our family.

Though change is good, so is tradition. Tradition somehow sews us together with our ancestors and provides us with comfort. It cements family memories. You see, there is value in that 30-year-old coffee cup, and there is comfort in the creaky old stairs and the garage door that sticks, and the sound of the creaky screen door that was slamming shut for a hundred years before us.

When I walk into this time-honored cabin at the start of every summer, it’s like Christmas Day, rediscovering things I hadn’t thought about all year. I look around at the things we’ve collected over the decades … the paint-by-numbers hanging on the wall of our living room, the old lamp we picked up when antiquing, the cluttered bookcase filled with books — including coloring books the kids used as toddlers — the sagging red-and-black-checked couches my wife re-covered when the kids were little because we were stuck here for nap time, the fireplace we installed to warm us during the winter when the world was going to come to an end in Y2K, the old “out of commission” leaky wooden canoe I traded a painting for, then refinished and hung from the ceiling of our living room, the old violin hanging on the wall, dozens of early paintings done by me and other family members. The kids still find their old toys in the closet and play with them like they once did, even though they are teenagers now.

It’s good to have a place to come home to.

Though life isn’t about stuff, it’s about memories, sometimes stuff is the reminder of a memory and special times together, which is why traditions are so important. It’s why I keep all the paintings I’ve painted on location, and why I hang them here to remind me of special moments painting alongside my kids and friends, and the special memories surrounding this place I call home.

I feel blessed that I was born into a family that saw the need to create traditions, and I consider it my responsibility to find ways to bring traditions to my kids and maybe, someday, generations in the future.

Some are fortunate enough to be beneficiaries of the vision of their great-great-great-grandparents, and they are taught to keep these traditions alive for their own great-great-great-grandchildren. Even though they may struggle to do so, they see how important it is. And I consider that one of the most admirable things anyone can do for their family.

Traditions can always be created. Memory-making can be happenstance, but most memories are created, and cherished, because someone worked to make them happen.

I encourage you this beautiful Sunday morning to seek out memories and traditions, and look for ways to cement them. It’s one of the great gifts you can give your family.

The Comfort of Tradition 2017-11-17T15:34:55+00:00
9 07, 2017

How Discomfort Changes Your Life, and the World

2017-11-17T15:36:55+00:00

There is an odd orb in the sky, shining down on me this warm Sunday morning. We’ve not seen it for most of the summer, other than the week of my Adirondack Publisher’s Invitational. The “summer of rain” has hopefully come to an end, and today, once the kids awaken, I’m looking forward to a lake day with the family, with no agenda.

Yet as I sit here on the dock in a bright red wooden Adirondack chair, the lake is so quiet I can hear the whoosh of the wings when a bald eagle flies overhead in search of fish. The sky today is cloud-free, the blue rich with a slight cast of pink, and the sun is warming me and my coffee.

Last week I took my sons to the Congress of Future Scientists and Technology Leaders. The event is for smart kids who are interested in careers in science and tech, and I highly recommend it.

I sat in on most of the four days of sessions from some of the most amazing science and technology minds in the world, but sneaked out a couple of times for some experiences with my son Brady. We went to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game thanks to some friends who had great seats they could not use, and we returned a day later for the Fenway Park tour.

Visiting a Living Legend

One of the other highlights of my week was a visit with artist John Stobart, who lives south of Boston in the town of Westport, Massachusetts. John is in his mid-80s and known as one of the most brilliant marine painters of our time. He was born and studied in England and came to America as a young man.

This was a time for old friends to reconnect, to talk about the state of the art world, and for me to thumb through stacks of paintings and studies he has done over the years and see some of his classic paintings in person. John even drove me around the area and took me to the places he had done many of his famous paintings. It was a red-letter day. He is such a gracious and giving person.

Advice for Young People

At the Congress, one speaker, a young man of about 25, was telling the kids that discomfort should be embraced. I had never thought in terms of discomfort being a good thing, but as I examined my past, he was right.

My Humiliating Experience

I remember my palms were sweating as I stood behind the stage of the auditorium of Harrison Hill Elementary in my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, waiting to go onstage. Then, when my name was called, I wanted to turn and run and had a sick feeling in my stomach. It was the annual spelling bee competition in front of the rest of the school and most of the parents, and when it came to my moment in the spotlight, I froze.

I don’t recall the word I was given, but I recall standing there, looking out at all those people, and my mind going blank. I also recall the laughter of all the kids when I was unable to spell a simple word I knew. I was quickly out of the competition, and I was humiliated. But in spite of the failure and discomfort, I was able to grow from the experience.

A Bad Moment on the Radio

Years later, when I was 14, it was my moment in the spotlight again. I was at radio station WITB (Indiana Tech’s college radio station), where I had talked my way into a DJ position, though I had zero experience. I was given a first show on a Saturday morning. Once the other DJ put on his final record, I opened the mic, started the next record, and was ready to talk over the intro.

I had rehearsed it time and time again, but when I turned on the record, it did not play. There was dead air. Then the program director of the radio station was banging on the glass and I’m responding to him: “What is it? What’s wrong?” not realizing all of this was going out over the air. Finally, he ran into the studio, flicked a switch for the record to play, and turned my mic off. That was my first moment on the air. Fortunately, he didn’t fire me, and I eventually made everything work. It’s where I cut my teeth, and it resulted in a career in radio that started in 1969 and continues with my radio magazine, Radio Ink, to this day.

I remember being uncomfortable going into the radio station for the first time, and being uncomfortable pitching the program director for the job, and being uncomfortable doing my first show. Yet had I allowed those moments of discomfort to prevent me from doing those things, I probably would never have had a career of 48 years.

Where Would We Be Without Discomfort?

Discomfort, it turns out, has been a theme in my life. And if you stop and think about the great women and men in history, discomfort is often a theme in their lives as well. We may think of Steve Jobs as a great success, but imagine how uncomfortable it was putting his name on the line and starting a company. Imagine how difficult it was for Neil Armstrong to be crammed into a tin can, sitting on top of a controlled explosion, and being shot into space while risking his life, yet he became the first man on the moon. Think about how uncomfortable it was for Ralph Albert Blakelock or Alfred Bierstadt, who documented the West with paintings but endured great hardships to travel there, to live there among the Native Americans.

A Spectacular Painting Subject

A couple of weeks ago, during my Publisher’s Invitational, I learned of an amazing waterfall I hadn’t seen before. So me and some friends hiked a nine-mile round trip with heavy backpacks, hitchhiking part of the way. But the reward for the discomfort was one of the most stunning waterfalls I’ve seen and painted in my life.

When you think about it, whenever you “put yourself out there” where there is a possibility of being judged, being criticized, possibly bombing and feeling like a fool, you’re uncomfortable.

In fact, as I look backward, things that seem easy now started out with severe discomfort. I’ll not bore you with the hundreds of times I stepped out and felt uncomfortable, but I will say that I’ve noticed it’s a trend.

Listen for Ridicule

In the process I’ve discovered something about myself and about others, and that is when I come up with an idea, decide to do something bold, it’s that discomfort that signals me that it must be worth doing. The more uncomfortable I am, the better the idea is. If I’m telling myself all the reasons I should not do something because it’s a risk, it’s unknown territory, and because it’s a giant inconvenience and possibly subject to ridicule, I find it challenges me more.

I’ve also discovered that the most uncomfortable time is when I share an idea with others and they tell me all the reasons it will fail and it will damage my reputation. Almost every time someone tells me all the reasons I should not do something, it challenges me to prove it can be done, especially if I believe it is an idea whose time has come.

Oh, I’ve bombed more times than I’ve succeeded. It’s never easy, it’s always a little embarrassing, and sometimes it can even be humiliating and financially devastating, yet I’d not feel right about myself if I did not try something because I was uncomfortable or it was a risk.

Advice for Youth

Young people need to know that not everything works out and that you need to be willing to take risks, to be uncomfortable, but you also need to be prepared for the reality that you might fail. I personally like to burn bridges behind me so failure is less of an option when things get tough.

We all need to understand that we each create our own world. We are agents of our own thoughts, actions, and feelings. No one can take that away from us. We each shape the world around us, and we’re each making a conscious decision to suffer or not.

Belief Trumps Discomfort

We must not allow fear of ridicule or failure or pain to get in the way of doing what we believe in. We need to step away from our past and not allow past failures to prevent future successes by making us avoid discomfort.

Live in the here and the now. Nothing outside the present moment matters, because the next breath could be our last. I was reminded of this just yesterday, when the life of a young and vibrant friend of a friend was snuffed out instantly in a traffic accident.

We tend to get attached to the things in our pasts, and those records play themselves over and over again. Our brains are trained to protect us, so our automatic negative thoughts kick in to protect us from pain and discomfort.

Life is a miracle, but avoiding discomfort can prevent that miracle from being everything it could be. One bold move could be the big moment of your life that will change the world and maybe become the one thing you’re remembered for. Not doing it because of fear should not be an option.

An Icon Shares Insecurities

Yesterday I spoke with a man I have placed on a pedestal for the past 20 years. He is the most well connected man I know; he can pick up the phone and contact Bill Gates or Elon Musk, yet he shared with me yesterday that he has suffered a life of insecurity and negative thoughts and that he has always had to push them out and not listen to them. I was shocked to hear it, but in a way pleased, because I experience the same battle.

What World-Changers Do

I’ve decided that the people who change the world, the people who build giant organizations, the people who invent amazing products, the people who do works the world will always remember, are people exactly like you and me. The only difference is that they push aside the negative thoughts and push ahead, knowing it’s going to be difficult, uncomfortable, and risky.

Though we may look at them as people with a gift or something special, I’ve seen too many examples of everyday folks who get mad enough or inspired enough to make change happen. The difference between them and us is their willingness to accept pain.

I see these images of six-pack abs and perfect bodies on men my age and realize the only difference between them and me is their willingness to put in the time and the pain.

This morning as you set out on your day, ask yourself three things…

What am I avoiding because I’m uncomfortable?

What ideas do I have that I know I need to do that I’ve not done for fear of pain or discomfort?

What’s the worst that can happen if I do them?

The worst that can happen for any of us is loss of life. Embarrassment, loss of income, loss of friendships don’t compare to loss of life.

Yet which is worse? Spending your life looking back and wishing you had tried, or spending your life knowing you have gone for it? Maybe you succeed, maybe you don’t, but at least you know you did not allow pain or discomfort to get in your way.

You possess something in your heart that no one on this earth has. There is something inside of you that you’re sitting on to avoid pain. If you can stop focusing on discomfort and start focusing on what could be, you too will change the world.

How Discomfort Changes Your Life, and the World 2017-11-17T15:36:55+00:00
2 07, 2017

A Muse in the Woods and the Value of Silence

2017-11-17T15:39:21+00:00

I’m tired. It’s early, and I awoke this morning in spite of wishing for more sleep. It’s rare that I wake up tired; today I’m still fatigued after driving about seven hours yesterday. But I was returning to the lake, my muse, the most cherished place in my life, after a few days of stark contrast in the Boston area to provide my son with the educational opportunity of a lifetime: the Congress of Future Scientists and Technology Leaders. It’s an annual event, by invitation only to 7,000 kids from across our land, to get access to and opinions from the great minds of our world. I was pleased to be a fly on the wall and a VIP guest, and pleased to give my son a chance to hang with the luminaries of science.

Objecting to the Move

Though this lake has become my inspiration as an artist, a place where we can spend our summers to reconnect as a family, and a place to reconnect with nature, it didn’t start out that way. In fact, I didn’t want to be here.

Thirty years ago, my father told my brothers and I that he was selling his summer home on Lake Wawasee in Indiana and moving to a lake like the one in the movie On Golden Pond, but lacking JetSkis and rumbling racing boats. I was not thrilled. We were the third generation on that lake, which had memories of ice fishing with my grandfather, summers with friends, learning to drive a boat, and feeling freedom for the first time.

Seeking Quiet

I also didn’t like his reason for leaving, which was that our lake had become noisy, busy, and crazy. It struck me as a retirement mentality, and at the time I was in my 30s and loved the buzz of the lake. Quiet was not on my radar.

I was resistant to visiting the new place in this park they call the Adirondacks, which turned out to be miles and miles of preserved beauty, larger than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and Grand Canyon National Parks combined, and equally stunning.

Where’s My Noise?

Upon arrival, I thought it was too quiet. In fact, it was so quiet that it made me uncomfortable. Nothing but beauty, chirping birds, loons crying out their eerie calls, and no boat noise to speak of. The 100-year-old house had no television, was remote enough to have no radio signals (a tough thing because I was in the radio industry), and no noise-making gadgets other than the cassette player in the car. Oh, and there was a piano.

I was put off about being stuck in the middle of the woods, inhaling the fresh air laced with pine scent. Leaving early was on my mind because being stuck here for a week, as planned, did not fit my idea of a good time. I missed the lake of my home. This one didn’t seem like it was going to be much fun. It was too far away for my friends to visit. It was not the bustling activity I was used to.

I was an activity junkie and I needed a fix, but there was no fix to be had. If only I could return to the city, to the noise.

Waking Up to Dead Silence

I recall waking on day two in a deafening silence. Though it was mid-August, as I popped out of bed and looked out the window of the bedroom in the old boathouse overlooking the lake, the water was still. The island and the mountain in the distance had been blanketed with a sheet of snow that clung to the needles of the pines, weighting their branches.

Snow was a foreign substance to me — something I’d not been around since I left Indiana at age 17 to spend my winters in Florida. My first reaction was to crawl back into bed, pull the covers over my head, and try to sulk myself back to sleep about this unfortunate event. But something got into me that day. I put on my warmest clothes — I had very few warm clothes for my summertime visit — grabbed my camera, hopped in the Jeep, and drove around the area taking pictures of the snow. Mine were the only tracks that morning, mine the lone car on the surrounding country roads. Then I jumped in the boat and photographed the snow from the lake.

I never knew such silence. Snow covering the world, absorbing all noise, creating the most quiet I had ever known. It was magical.

Several years of Christmas card photos came out of that day, but that wasn’t the best part. It was the day I transformed from needing constant stimulation and the noise of life to craving silence. Suddenly and unintentionally, I gained an appreciation for the silence of this lake.

My New Muse

As an artist, the Adirondacks became my muse. I became enthralled by the distant blue mountains, the depth of the forests, the 200 shades of green, the brooks babbling through rocks inside the forest, the massive waterfalls from high peaks.

Decades of photography consumed me in this place before I graduated to painting, and the mountain view from our place has become the challenge I’ve never completely conquered, painting it many times each year and never getting it to a point of perfection. Each year I think, “This will be the year I capture its true essence and the sense of quiet in this place.” No two days are alike; in fact, no one day is the same minute to minute.

Capturing Hearts

Over almost 30 years in this place, I’ve watched this region capture the heart of every visitor who comes here. Busy, insanely uptight business people, like I was, come here, and soon they melt into the peace of these woods. I’ve never been in a place where one can relax so easily, almost instantly.

I’d spend my busy business-filled year looking forward to a week at the lake, which is all I got most summers, and some summers I couldn’t get here at all. Yet I knew that week would ground me, soothe my soul, reconnect me with nature, and wash away a year’s worth of stress.

Healing Summers

My summers here are my healing. Walks through the woods, painting in front of misty waterfalls, absorbing deep forest greens with my eyes, filling my ears with the sounds of loons crying in the night or even, oddly enough, the patter of tiny mouse feet inside the walls of our 100-year-old cabin. It is all very comforting, and the experience I crave all year when we’re not here.

I spent many years getting my business in a position so that I could be here all summer, something that was also impossible before Internet by satellite came here to the woods. When the kids were pre-school, we would stay from June through November, through the first couple of snows. One day, once the kids hit college, our time here will increase so I can experience as much time here as possible without putting up with the 30-below temps of the deep winter. After all, our house has no heat, no insulation.

Saying Goodbye

Tears fill my eyes when I leave this place as each summer ends, knowing that one day we may be unable to return, and knowing that I’ll long for it all year. Summers here are getting shorter because our high school-aged triplets have to return a month early for marching band practice. I want to be selfish and stay, but that’s not what good fathers do.

The woods are medicine to my soul.

Perhaps it was youth that fostered my addiction to activity, but it was the woods that coaxed me out of it. Solitude with nature has become my temple, my place to communicate with my thoughts and my maker.

Walking a Woodsy Trail

My morning ritual, my commute from our small cabin among the towering trees, is a five-minute walk down a tree-lined dirt road to the lakeside boathouse where I do my daily work, and where I longingly look out over the lake, hoping to knock off early for a visit to the other shores.

No man could ever have convinced me that the woods would become part of my DNA, or that I’d thrive away from my busy addiction. But I could not fight it. I tried, but it won me over.

I recently heard a quote: “Build pockets of stillness into your life. Presence is far more rewarding than productivity.”

Summers beside the lake surrounded by deep woods do my soul good, but it is the solitude and the presence, the quiet, that stimulates thought, that matters. My quiet mornings to myself help me find that presence, and they help me reconnect with my true self, getting away from my busy self.

I feel especially blessed to have experienced this place and been able to call it home for many summers. My kids have never known summer anywhere else. We are very fortunate.

Small Screens Create Stress

Though we are easily seduced by small screens, tweets, and Instagram posts so we junkies don’t have to let a minute pass without glancing at the screen in our hands, waiting to see who tweeted what, we need to understand that it’s an addiction, and it creates dopamine, just like opiates do. Like heroin addicts, we cannot let go, yet we need to.

We all need solitude, whether it’s a place to escape, woods to walk through, or just mornings free of activity so we can quietly hear the ticking of the clock and the chirp of the morning birds. Seek it, and embrace it, because it feeds the soul.

During the school year, getting the kids off to school and having each morning be an insane one, my strategy is to awaken, and sit peacefully with my coffee, with the quiet, with the peace, with my thoughts and prayers.

Delaying Addiction

Though my addictive side wants to glance at that small screen to see who is paying attention to me with their tweets and posts and e-mails, and though it’s become our way of finding out what’s going on in our world, I try to resist and preserve my quiet time. The moment I glance at a screen, my mind begins to race for the day and the peace and quiet is lost.

The Sounds of Silence

This Sunday morning I encourage you to seek silence and peace. It’s a gift, and it’s therapy in preparation for a busy day. If you have a place nearby you can go to get back to nature, it’s a blessing for sure, but all you really need is a quiet spot in a corner of your home to ponder life each morning before your busy day kicks in.

Seek out your special time, and protect it with your life. Use that time to journal, to read, to think, to pray. You can achieve it in the middle of a busy city or in the solitude of the woods.

Seek silence, seek quiet. Pull away from the noise, the activity, the screen, and feed your soul.

A Muse in the Woods and the Value of Silence 2017-11-17T15:39:21+00:00