Flashes of lightning so powerful they illuminate the dark billowing clouds in the sky, creating a late Independence Day fireworks display. Faint and distant roars of thunder continue as if they’ll never end, with an occasional boom for effect.

On Golden Pond

I’m rubbing my hands together to warm them in the cold front that traveled in with the rains, yet I cherish this old screened-in porch so much, I cannot skip a morning here. Each morning I come here with my coffee and my breakfast, and it’s where I end each day to enjoy the warm afternoon light as it floods the distant trees with orange. After dinner, it’s where I sit to enjoy the silence, with an occasional welcome interruption from the cry of the loons. This is Golden Pond.

Three Views

The porch is an octagon with lake views in three directions, views of the old moss- and pine-bough-covered shingle roofs in another direction, and the old lakefront fireplace on the other side. Once there stood a boathouse, when ladies wore long white dresses and men in ties and seersucker suits and round straw hats stepped into the old launch to properly cruise these lakes. Today the boathouse, the launch, and the people and their customs have disappeared. We’re much more informal, and future owners will look back on our photos to see our flip-flops, T-shirts, and plastic kayaks. Perhaps they in their drone boats will look at us as antiquated.

Deep Traditions

In spite of modern times, our little chain of lakes and its history remain deeply rooted in tradition, partly because most of the families on the lake have been here since the camps’ founding 120 years ago. In Late July and August there are sailboat races in old wooden boats constructed for the lake, boats that have been sailing for 12 decades. There is a Labor Day tea, where awards are presented to winning sailors. I’m proud that my son Berkeley has been the recipient a couple of years in a row. 

Gather to Worship in a Unique Way

On Sundays many of us gather at the old stone church, open only in the summer months. To get there we have to hop in a boat and go to a distant landing to get to our cars. In the old days, lake families would gather at “Pulpit Rock,” where the preacher would stand with families who came there in old wooden boats to listen and worship. Then on Sunday nights they would gather in one of the camps (the name they use for homes here) to sing hymns. The tradition has continued for 120 years and has been in the same camp for the last 60. It’s a wonderful tradition. And somehow families keep it alive to keep the lake from losing its character.

Time Tunnel

Living here in the summer is like living in a time machine. Life is slow — only recently did we get Internet, the one thing that allows those of us who work to work from here. Families gather socially all summer and show up in their old wooden boats. (Something we don’t have here but aspire to acquire one day.) Some have televisions, while others, like us, prefer life without them. I can go the whole summer without seeing the news, and my news comes only via the grapevine, which is refreshing. Frankly, I love life without the news and don’t like that they get us all keyed up and polarized so we’ll watch more. It’s an addiction I can do without.

Feeling at Home

Laurie and I had never lived in an old house until we moved into this camp recently. Like all things old, it’s a bit of a money pit, as harsh winters make repairs necessary each spring. But we have our meals in the old kitchen or dining room where families have connected for 120 years. Within a week of moving in, we both felt like we had been here forever. It’s like living in grandma and grandpa’s house. We feel very much at home.

Swinging Back

There is a book called Generations by William Strauss and Neil Howe that talks about how society changes and how, about every 80 years, our tastes change as we go through generational cycles. It’s true in art too. And it reflects our attitudes, which is pointed out in the book Pendulum, written by my buddies Roy H. Williams and Michael Drew. And I can feel the pendulum swinging back in a different direction.

Moving Away from Digital

There is a lot of evidence that younger people are starting to swing away from digital and move back to the things they didn’t have growing up, which is why vinyl records are hot, why young readers are returning to printed books and magazines, and why they are looking for ways to engage in real life experiences. They are not shedding their digital worlds, but starting to seek ways to escape being all-digital.

Escape to Civility

I for one have found that escape is critical. At my events I make it a point to tell people that they will be asked to leave if they engage in political discussions because we’re there to escape the noise of life, stress, and politics, to be replaced by connecting with people on a deeper level, making friendships and enjoying nature as we allow our creative bones to rattle a bit. Though we all care deeply about our country, we have become very polarized and have lost the civility to hear the opinions of others, and it is resulting in friendships lost. 

That is why my “no drama” rule applies to politics at my painting events, and here in paradise. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I care more about the people I love finding things to talk about that don’t include politics. I’m thinking of making a sign: “Politics Not Spoken Here.” Imagine how much richer our lives and friendships would be if we could keep our opinions about politics to ourselves and enjoy our conversations and friendships, and stop disrespecting others because they don’t think they way we think. It shows how we’ve become narrow thinkers when we all think we’ve evolved.

Take Advantage of Summer

Summers are a special time, a chance to get away, a chance to reconnect, a chance to work a little less and enjoy a little more. What would happen if you created a mental escape from the things that cause stress, that cause disagreement, the things that make you fume?

Be an Ostrich

I’m taking a media vacation this summer. I’m not watching the news, I’m not listening to the radio in the car, I’m not reading the papers, and I’m avoiding social media that involves news or politics. I refuse to read a news website all summer. If the world comes to an end, I’ll be the one that didn’t stress about it for weeks leading up to it. I’m avoiding news, debates, and any political discussion with anyone. If politics comes up, I change the subject. If it continues, I politely excuse myself. And I’m happier for it. Last summer I took a two week “email and cell phone” escape. This summer I’m escaping media.

Can you do it for a summer? Can you create a mental escape? Can you get your friends to do it? 

I’m not exactly sure how many people are reading this each Sunday, but I’m told these e-mails get forwarded a lot. What would happen if all the readers, and their friends, took the summer off for a mental escape?

Join me. Your tense, stress-filled, disappointed, and outraged brain will thank you.

I promise you won’t miss it.

Eric Rhoads

PS: The no drama/no politics policy will be in effect at our Fine Art Trip this coming October when we go behind the scenes to see the art world around Provence and the South of France, the French Riviera, and then Scotland. It is one of the finest ways in the world to see art, to make new friends, and to have a great lifetime memory. There are just a few slots still open.

Last week I had an amazing experience. I spent two days going through the archives at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, working on a project. It’s a wonderful museum, and they are celebrating 50 years, so it’s a good time to go. And just down the road is Chesterwood, the home and studio of Daniel Chester French, the sculptor who did the Lincoln Memorial statue of Lincoln. (I was pleased to see Fine Art Connoisseur on sale in the gift shop.) And there are lots of museums nearby. The Berkshire Museum is a lovely old classic museum building with a wonderful John MacDonald show going on, and the Clark Museum nearby has a Renoir show. Lots to do and see this summer.