Fog is covering the lake this early Sunday morning. The rays of the sun are working hard to burn it off. The effects of the warm rays against cool light purple and bluish-white colors of fog are illuminating the air with a golden glow that creates a heavenly effect.
The peak of the distant mountain reaches out above the fog, as if signaling “All is well, I’m still here.”
The loons on the lake quietly drift by with their babies on their backs as they call out their looney-tunes, which reflect off the lake’s edges and echo from one side to the other.
As I sit in my bright red Adirondack chair on the dock, my Dunkin Donuts coffee is rapidly losing its warmth in my old green cup because the air is a chilly 58 degrees. But the cup still warms my hands, and as I sip it, the coffee slides like lava through my body.
A scratchy old hunter green-and-red-checked blanket is wrapped around my goosebump-covered legs, tucked underneath so no cold sneaks in. Warmth comes from my old green oversized sweater, which I keep in a drawer at the cabin year round because moths too need food and entertainment. Plus, the best day to wear a “holey” sweater is on Sunday.
In an hour or so I’ll leave the dock, walk over to the cabin, and pick up my father, my wife, and the kids to make the short four-minute drive through the woods, passing beaver dams and fallen trees, over to the the quaint little stone church nestled in the wilderness among giant pines. It was built by the families on our lake 140 years ago this summer.
The Old Chapel in the Wilderness
In the old days before the church was built, the lake residents would put on their finest clothes and row their wooden guideboats out to the halfway point of our lake. The local preacher would speak from Pulpit Rock, which still stands there today. Today, since almost all the old cabins are accessible only by water, the first part of those residents’ journey to church is still by boat.
At this summer wilderness chapel, open only in July and August, we continue the tradition of 140 years in the same uncomfortable old wooden pews built for the chapel’s founders. The stunningly beautiful stained glass windows create a dancing light show of color across the sanctuary as the old pipe organ rattles the wooden rafters with deep bass vibrations that give me chills.
Generations of children have looked forward to dangling from the hard-to-pull rope on the old bell above the church as the bell rings out to toll the start of worship. Lighting the candles is the only time their parents approve of their playing with fire. The choir is made up of a small group whose ancestors sang back in 1877, when the church was dedicated. I love tradition.
Following the service, we share stories of our week on the lake, eating overcooked brownies with crusty edges and gooey centers, like communion wafers (with oversweetened Kool-Aid for the wine). After community time, we often walk through the old cemetery on the church grounds, where markers of previous lives reinforce family traditions.
Somehow, in an odd sort of way, I love being a part of something that I know has been going on for 140 years, knowing I’ve been there for 30 of those, and knowing that it’s my generation’s responsibility to see that returning each year remains interesting and relevant, to carry it forward. It’s not easy to get my kids interested, and it was difficult for my parents to get me interested. It’s probably always been the same, over generations.
I feel the same way about painting. I love being linked to the past through artists who passed their craft from one generation to the next. That’s why I love being a part of the Salmagundi Club and the National Arts Club in New York; their traditions are important to link past generations to the present and pass along the wisdom of ages of painters.
In our fast-paced, screen-saturated lives, there is deep value in being a part of something bigger than ourselves and carrying a vision forward for future generations. It’s what I hope to do with plein air painting and classical realism painting so that future generations of collectors and artists will know them and consider them part of their world.
An Important Realization
One of the most important realizations of my life has been that the long game matters more than the short game, and that short-term gains rarely matter when you’re thinking beyond your own lifetime. It’s why our decades of wisdom should be put to work for something bigger than ourselves.
As I made my way through the grave markers this week, I wondered who all of these people were and what they did with the gift of life. Hopefully their families remember and continue to honor them so many years later.
A few graves stood out, some with descriptions of the lives of the individuals. One was a local trapper who built an empire that made the Adirondacks known, and resulted in the preservation of 100 square miles of beautiful wilderness. Another came up with a treatment for tuberculosis, another wrote a book whose stories inspired conservation in the region, and another was the father of reforestation. I’m sure dozens of others did equally amazing things.
It’s Inside You and Me
I don’t believe these were necessarily special people with special gifts; they were like you and me. Most of these people did not start out to change the world, they just focused on something they thought was important and their passion spread. It was their efforts that make us look back on them as special.
What passion do you possess that will make a difference in the world?
What are you a part of that will live on for generations? What can you create now that will live on?
What role can you play to pass on your wisdom and create value that goes beyond your lifetime?
For me, it’s a lofty goal of teaching 1 million people to paint, because painting changed my life and I think painting will make their lives better.
What about you?