The lake is still, reflecting like a giant mirror of rich blue cloud-filled morning sky. Cool air meeting the warmth of the water produces a thin layer of fog dangling over the glass, muting the colors of the dark forest greens and converting them to shades of blue gray. Ripples interrupt the stillness as the feet of a raptor swoop down to snatch up a small fish lingering right below the surface. In the distance a purple blue mountain hails from above, calling me to climb her.
View of a Candy Store
Last year, toward the end of summer, I hiked to the top of that mountain with my 50-pound backpack of paint, easel, tripod, painting panels, and an enthusiastic spirit. The view from the top, a giant panorama of lakes, mountains, and sky, give me more choices to paint than a candy store of tempting treats, knowing I could take only one … at least on this trip.
Creativity on Steroids
Here today, the promise of an unscheduled summer ahead, I tell myself I’ll climb it more often, get out and paint more often, and end the summer with a stack of painted memories of this, my favorite place. The Adirondacks captured my spirit decades ago, first as a photographer and then, knowing of its endless beauty, I converted to painting, which allows me to push the limits of my creativity in a way I never could with a camera.
My conversion also slowed my pace. For decades I’d travel to distant lands, iconic scenes, and stunning vistas only to set up, take my shot, and move on to the next trophy. Somehow I felt guilty — why am I not packing a lunch or a backpack and staying here, in this one spot, all day? Why am I not camping here for a few days? The answer always came back that there was so much more to see, and stopping would keep me from seeing it all.
My Own Voice
Painters like me often use photos for reference, which comes in handy when snapping a rare moment you otherwise couldn’t capture even with a sketch pad in hand. And though I do that from time to time, I do so less now that I’ve discovered that time in a place impacts the feeling of my paintings. After all, for me it’s not about making a reference photo or recording the place for posterity, it’s about saying something more about what I see, the impact of my study of the scene, the memory of the place or the experience.
Rarely do I sell the small paintings I make on location, because they are my memories and very precious to me. On occasion my gallery will receive a bigger version, painted in the studio from one of the small studies. Each painting is tied to something … the reason I stopped the car in a particular spot or the reason I set up my easel in this place on a hike, and often the paintings hold reminders of children who stopped by alongside their parents, and I let them paint on my canvas to encourage them. Or the friends I was with, painting in the rain in the shelter of a minivan, or the animals that wandered into the scene.
A Big List
There is much to be done this summer. Not only paintings I want to do in the vast landscape, but my son wants to sit for a portrait, something he has denied me for the last 17 years. I also have a painting I want to do of a local Native American acquaintance, who has such an interesting face and such beautiful costumes. And the best Father’s Day gift of all would be time with my kids, as much as possible all summer, whether it’s them doing what I like to do, or me doing what they want to do. One son wants to hike all 46 peaks of the Adirondacks, though I may slow him down if invited.
Drawing in Family
I’ve often quoted RIchard Saul Wurman, who talks about how many summers we each have left, and how we want to make the most of them. This will be my last summer without triplet high school kids — next year at this time they will be in college. It’s hard to know if they’ll spend the rest of their summers with us. We can only hope, and try to provide a place to visit that is a magnet against their distractions of steel.
Ultimate Father’s Day
Narrowing this concept, I have to ask how many more summers, or how much more time, will our kids get with us? Or for those blessed to still have our parents, how many more summers will we get with them? This is more evident than ever since I recently lost my mother, and for me an ideal Father’s Day would be time with my wife, my kids, and my own father. For years I struggled to find the ultimate Father’s Day gift, only to come to the stark realization that the best gift I can give is time with them. It’s becoming more evident, with the prospect of distant colleges, future marriages and children in possibly faraway places, and the birds leaving the nest to start their own nests. I marvel at families who have managed to keep their kids close to home, yet I also want my kids to experience the world and chase the dreams that may take them as far away as Mars.
Looking Beyond Flaws
Today as we honor our fathers, we don’t have to honor their flaws, their mistakes, or our grievances over past conflicts. It’s a day to look the other way, and honor them for the gift of life. For some it may end there, while others honor the gift of sacrifice, of their fathers’ toil to keep food on the table, for the time fathers took nurturing us when they had to find a way in spite of a busy schedule or working multiple jobs. We honor their words, their stories, their wisdom, and their love.
Honor Good Memories
This day is painful for some and meaningless for others, and for you, we honor the good memories and hope that the painful memories don’t cloud the good that came from the time you had.
Here’s to You, Dad
To fathers, I salute you. I never understood what fatherhood meant until I had my own kids. I hope your day is filled with calls, or visits, or at least good memories. It’s not the day to dredge up the bad, or if it is, remember that the most powerful word in the dictionary is forgiveness.
PS: My dad is 93, in great shape physically and mentally, socially active, working 15-hour days, and he loves life. I consider myself blessed to have a dad who has tried to be there for me and my brothers. If he could not be there in person, he was on the phone. Sometimes he would drag us to business meetings or to work conventions — we often didn’t want to go, and though we thought he was teaching us future lessons to apply to our own lives (and he was), I now know he was grabbing moments and creating memories.
One of my most powerful memories was a visit with my dad to New York when I was 14, to a convention or something. When we had a free Saturday, he asked what I wanted to do, and I wanted to visit a New York radio station. He made it happen. Throughout his life, he made sacrifices we could not understand as kids, but the fruit of those sacrifices was used to build memories in our later years. I have him to thank for introducing us to the Adirondacks, and so much more.
No, he’s not perfect. But then, there is only one perfect Father. The rest of us are flawed, sometimes make boneheaded decisions, and we go through life like pinballs, bouncing from one experience to the next, never knowing if we’ll bounce around for a while or end up in the gutter, hoping to get another shot, after a bad decision. We do what we know, we do the best we can, but we are not perfect. Rather than looking at the flaws of our fathers (which sometimes are strengths that we perceive as flaws), let’s embrace them for who they are and understand that our expectations of perfection or what we want them to be may also be flawed.
Dad, I’m grateful for the endless love, the endless sacrifices, and your endless efforts to keep making memories for the family.