The ring of the old clock strikes the top of the hour. A hammer on old springs, barely has any life left after chiming atop the old fireplace for so long, but still wound once a week as it has been for the past 120 summers. Furniture made of sticks and woven tree bark has accompanied the clock for the journey in this old camp. The bead and board walls and the ceilings are carefully angled to create designs, and the giant stone fireplace in the center of the living room is the only warmth for a cold day.
A Giant Mirror
Glancing out the old diamond-shaped windows through pine branches, I see the lake is still and reflecting like a giant mirror, showing the pine-forest shoreline and the blue-and-white sky with a layer of brightly lit mist along the horizon.
I sit here in the octagonal window seat, warming myself in the sun. The dogs, Weasley and Chewey, are snuggled into the wool blanket beside me. About the only thing we’ve added to this place are a few old-looking paintings, my guitar, which sits nestled in the corner, and a new family.
Badge of Courage
I’ve been reading a series of New York Times articles that were scrapbooked by the previous owners; the oldest is dated July 29, 1899. There must be 50 between then and now, each highlighting how special and unique this chain of lakes is for its beauty and tradition. When my dad first moved here, many homes had not changed hands in over 50 years, and then another 30 years passed with very few changes. And now, as family dynamics change and owners age, we’re seeing another rare cycle as a few places on the lake hand the keys to new owners. Sad to see the elders move on and their families, many of whom have been here the entire 120 years since the area was first inhabited, unwilling or unable to stay. Yet happily, new faces appear, who will hopefully take the care of these old lake homes as seriously as those in the past. In the spirit of history, most have resisted the urge to modernize beyond the necessary.
There is a bit of a badge of courage in living with wood stoves and no road access — meaning we carry in what we need by boat, whether groceries or materials for a new roof. Some things, like firewood, can be harvested from downed or dead trees in our woods.
Out of Our Routines
We could have found a hundred other places to live on a lake in the summer, but it’s the traditions that draw us here, and, for me and my family, we find ourselves with the time to do things we rarely have time for otherwise. Being on a media break gives me back a lot of time I would have wasted. I dare say I’ve not painted much this summer so far, but have found myself tinkering in the woodshop, building some things needed around camp. Thanks to my son Brady, I’m learning how to design in 3D, and we’re experimenting with a 3D printer. My son Berkeley has torn himself away from video games and has been carving a cup from a block of wood, and he’s now constructing a hut back in the woods.
It does my heart good to see them interacting with something other than small screens and operating at a slower pace. It’s a great break from the pressures of school, and it teaches them that there is more to life than screen time.
Families need leadership. It’s easier to let things take their course, let the kids follow the path of the things they are drawn to, yet if they do that, they may miss out on the confidence of knowing they can put their hands in the soil or build something out of a block of wood. My son wants to buy lumber for his project, but I’m suggesting he forage through the forest and try to build his shack from what he can find in the vast woods.
Though it’s easier to hire someone for chores than to endure the whining of teens, the pride of accomplishment on their faces after a project is done is worth asking 30 times to get them to do it. And when all is said and done, they will have new skills, a sense of accomplishment, and hopefully, when sitting within these walls in their 80s, will be able to say, “I built that when I was in my teens.” And frankly, being here isn’t the most practical thing I can do, yet it may be the best investment of my life — not from a financial perspective, but in the way it brings the family together and the joy being here brings us all. Yet family is everything, and I needed to lead my family here to continue the tradition, just as my dad led his family here.
Keeping Life Interesting
We also need personal leadership. We can be a ship adrift at sea with no destination, hoping we land somewhere, or we can be deliberate, creating a map. Dreaming a little is important, dreaming a lot is even more important, and setting some goals and focusing on those goals constantly is critical. It’s why we’re here. But I like to think that we also need to get beyond our comfort zone, beyond our traditions and the things we tend to repeat, in order to keep life more interesting and fulfilling.
The downside of a summer place we love is wanting to stay here all summer long, which would prevent us from seeing the world in the summertime. In our case, we carve out a couple of weeks for our annual fine art trip, which gets us out to see the world. Seeking new and interesting experiences and visiting places we’ve never visited is enriching.
A Lifetime of Stories
Last night we cruised over to my dad’s place on the lake, dropped in for a few minutes, and found a stack of photographs he was sorting. The stories of the places he had visited and the people he had met were fascinating. I realized that those things don’t just randomly happen, though there was randomness within those trips. But it all happened because he made an effort to lead himself to new experiences.
Turn Left Here
I think our tendency is to look at the lives of others and think their lives are better. Certainly Facebook is a great way to see what others are doing, and in some ways, it can make us envious. But a great life isn’t always about travel to distant lands — it’s about curiosity. Some of the richest experiences of my life have resulted from wondering “Hmm, what’s down this road?” and discovering an amazing waterfall or a cool shop. Last week I wandered into a woodshop and met a fascinating man who quit his high-powered marketing job and now makes beautiful furniture out of twigs for a living. Just seeing his shop was as good as some of the experiences on our international trips. I’ll randomly stop places I see because I’m curious, and it keeps life interesting.
Curiosity drives random experiences, but also drives us to explore the world, starting with our own town, neighboring towns, museums, and things across our region, and the experiences there can be every bit as exciting as a trip around the world. Remember, people come here from other countries to experience our lives. Being curious locally is a great starting point.
Curiosity is also about books, events, conferences, and lectures. We randomly took a course on foraging food from the forest, and now we spot things on hikes that are edible.
How would you rate your level of curiosity?
Could you be more curious?
Would being more curious lead you to more experiences?
Though I’m naturally curious, I find I have to force myself to be more curious than I’d otherwise be. I have to ask myself, What have I not done that I should try? What have I not seen that I should see? If this were my last week on earth, what would I do that I always wanted to get done?
What do my kids or grandkids need to experience? What life skills are they missing? What do they need to build their confidence?
We have no idea what we need until we discover we need it. If we sit still, stay set in our ways, stuck in one thing, we’ll never know. Curiosity has no limitations. Even if you’re stuck in one place with no ability to travel, there is much at your fingertips today that is just a click away. Sometimes it’s just a matter of shifting priorities.
Have a great, and curious, day.
PS: I want to say thank you to all the people who have told me that they forward these Sunday missives to their friends and family. That is the highest honor you can give me. When I started writing this, I decided to not follow my path of driving adoption by intense marketing as I do with so many other things. I decided to make this organic — it can be as small or as big as it gets on its own without any additional push from me other than an occasional mention on my podcast about plein air painting. If this is appearing in your mailbox and you did not subscribe, that may not always be the case. If it’s something you want, be sure to sign up here.
PS2: If you’re curious about seeing the South of France and its art from a new perspective, and curious about making new friends, we’ve still got a few rare openings on our annual Fine Art Trip this October. If you’re curious about figure and portrait drawing and painting, I’ve got a conference called FACE (Figurative Art Convention & Expo) in November in Williamsburg, Virginia, that is going to be fun. (There is a price increase on July 31.) And if you’re curious about plein air painting, the annual convention, next year in Denver in May, is already at 97% sold. It might be a good idea to reserve a seat.