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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.