The drive up the Mississippi River Valley was so stunning I felt compelled to pull over and grab a picture. The steam was again rising from the river into the cool air while the sky was positively pink and purple in one direction and blue and orange in the other.
When a day starts like this there is no doubt it will be a great one should I choose to carry the stillness of that moment into my day.
Later in the afternoon I was looking for a book on my shelf. In the process of looking I moved a couple of books around. For some reason my eyes were drawn to the back of How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins. Most books have a summary on the back, but this one had a quote instead:
Whether you prevail or fail, endure or die, depends more on what you do to yourself than on what the world does to you.
Sometimes the world is trying to help us hear the message we really need at a specific time. Other times it goes so far as to tie it to another message – in this case the irony of the title in the context of a recent challenge. Regardless, I am very thankful for the serendipitous shuffling of books on my shelf today!
I have a tendency to make life so much more complex than it needs to be. Busy schedules, technology, financial management, business, and so on. There is so much I pack into life that is unnecessary and self imposed.
In the woods everything fades away. The noise of daily life is muted by the simplicity of existing in nature. Trees who’ve stood before I was born demand my attention. The rocks and hills I observe have existed long before man walked the Earth will remain long after I’m gone. The sounds of the streams provide a more beautiful music than any I would play on my iPhone. Everything I need is there in the woods, in the simplicity, and in that exact moment.
In that moment all of the busyness of life fades from existence. There are no deadlines and tasks, only serenity and wonder. My ego is replaced with the reminder of how small and temporary my life is compared to so much of what exists around me. I am lost in the moment at the very time I find my true self in the woods.
The simplicity of nature surrounding me is deafening.
Today that simplicity was shared with Becky and Gavin (Dominic was refereeing soccer games). The ridges we hiked were so amazing. I could bring a hammock and backpack and stay up there for days. The peacefulness provides a profound state of chill and introspection while my wonder and curiosity often lead me off the trail to observe interesting plants, rocks, and tree roots. Those heavily canopied maple and oak forests are some of the most magical places in the Driftless.
I’ve read portions of Walden by Thoreau but haven’t read it all the way through. When I went to order a copy online I happened across a book with that story as well as a handful of others. My plan was to read from Walden through the rest of the book, but last night I felt compelled to read the last story for some odd reason.
Laying in my hotel bed last night I read The Artist of the Beautiful by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I could hardly lay still in bed afterwards as my brain was consumed by the tale. The story has been on my mind all day long for a variety of reasons. I have a suspicion that it will haunt my thoughts the entirety of my life moving forward.
I do not want to spoil it for you if you have it read it before and will do my best to describe without giving anything away. If you’d ever like to talk with me about it in more detail I would be happy to.
While reading it there were many emotions stirred in my soul. Grit – the determination to see something through to completion. Self-worth – doing something specifically for oneself specifically because one can and also possesses a desire to do so. The stoic mindset of controlling only what one can control was seen throughout. Belief in one’s own ideals and a refusal to bend to the thoughts of the world. The beauty and simplicity found in nature. The passion that drives one to accomplish great things. Sacrificing desires for the grandest of dreams. The importance of living into one’s true self. All of these thoughts, themes, and emotions in one short story from a century and a half ago!
As I face my own personal trials and am at a crossroads of pursuing my true self this story has inspired me to be the best me I can and to trust and follow my dreams of creating something beautiful. I plan on revisiting this story often both as reminder and warning to help my choose and stay on my right path.