I once told my mother, on a long hot summer afternoon, when out of school session and no friends could be found to play with, that I was bored. I will never forget the amazed and befuddled look on her face and she turned back to me in astonishment. “Bored????” she spit out. To which I suddenly felt very sheepish and could have easily cut a hole in the floor and climbed in, covering my head and closing my eyes to my apparent error in voicing my situation. She went on to say something about me doing ANYthing, or just going SOMEwhere. I don’t remember the specifics too well. All I remember from that day was her look, and her admonishment of my telling her I was incapable of entertaining myself. I turned and left her room, and did some serious thinking that day.
Since that day I have rarely had the occasion to be bored again, when left to my own volition. (That said, I do not do organized group meetings for that reason.) I found that by feeding my curiosity and learning to be creative, that I could take my own responsibility for how my minutes were spent and enjoy them.
As a kid I learned to draw horses. It was gratifying to draw one and have my grandfather tape the drawing to their kitchen wall, and so I did many, many more of them. I read like a fiend, and then began writing my own fables, delving into my imaginary world no one else could see, bringing stories onto paper for someone else to read. I quickly learned that an audience giving feedback is powerful fuel for the creative, so back to work I would go. My interests have expanded since then, and I have learned to do a little bit of a whole lot of things, and while master of none of them, the challenge to improve keeps me entertained and somewhat sane.
Recently, Mark and I had the good fortune to have a visit from perhaps one of the most influential and inspirational people to my life, in a round about way. Our visitor, Steve, makes most folks' pitiful effort to avoid boredom in life, pale and trivial. He is, the Renaissance guy, and he, is always doing something, really well.
From the time I first met Mark, in art class in college, I had heard a continual reference to this guy Steve, who had been in the army with him. They had been photography instructors on base in New Jersey together and had become good friends. The list of creative things that Steve could do was not only that of a super man, it was ridiculous at the level he perfected each and every one. He greatly influenced Mark whether Steve was showing Mark how to fly a falcon, how to paint a watercolor, how to cut a stone and cast a ring in lost wax, doing pottery, and this is to only mention a very few, besides working in photography. Together they were always busy and always doing something feeding their curious minds. Steve set a bar of excellence that was at first, off putting and his attention to infinite detail, intimidating. It is in his uber overachieving, influence first to Mark, and then later Mark’s sharing it with me, that has led me to try things I would never have even thought of, and, to try to also do them well.
The first time Steve came to visit us was many decades back now. We lived then on farm in a tiny house that we rented while we were still in college. My horses were out in the pasture, and our new chickens roamed the yard and their laid eggs by the front porch. It was a old house and had seen quite a bit of neglect, some of which we intended to fix up, some of it we hadn’t even noticed or thought of, until Steve came.
I woke the first morning to the sound of a hammer outside our window. Looking out I saw Steve out there fixing the gate to the chicken pen. Having taken it upon himself to see what needed to be done, he simply did it.
He had brought with him some wines that he had made at his home in Seattle, a few reds and also a particularly incredible raspberry elixir. He sent me out of the kitchen one night and fixed a salmon, that he had caught in Puget Sound, frozen, and wrapped in paper towels and stowed in his suit case. Now thawed, wonderfully cooked, and delicious, he pared the fish with this dry and rich raspberry wine. It was heady stuff, and memorable still.
Over the next decades we kept in touch by phone usually over the holidays or on Mark’s birthday. Steve visited every decade or so as his job as head of the graphics department for Boeing brought him to Huntsville to the rocket center there, and once in the south, we weren’t to far away. His wine making improved to an amazing level, and he was hired to teach courses in winemaking at a college back home.
We had never met his wife Deb, and over the years had heard about her, and their baby girl, who is now grown. So it was great on this visit that she was able to join him in a post retirement loop around the country in a VW camper. Again he brought more incredible wine. Together one night, they made a risotto with porcini mushrooms that they had gathered on their farm before leaving, and a pan forte he had made for dessert. My mouth drools at even thinking about the pan forte with its crunchy, not too sweet, and crazily spiced, goodness of cardamon and pepper.The lovely roses they bought for us were put in a pot that Steve had thrown back back in their army days and the flowers stayed fresh long after their all too short visit.
In a spring cleaning down in the barn this weekend, we opened some boxes that had not been opened since we moved here twenty years ago. To my surprise, one of the items was a watercolor that I had done back in college and it was my very first attempt at painting a bird. Actually it was two kestrels, a male and a female that Mark had trapped, as a direct result of his falconry skills learned from Steve. The birds were in the biology lab being studied for a project Mark was working on with his ornithology professor. This painting was the beginning of many years of my painting raptors, and eventually of my learning to train a hawk to the fist, once again Steve’s influence to blame.
It is good to have people to push you, to inspire you to try something, anything. Who knows where it will lead you. And “Don’t be bored,” as my mother said. Mark and Steve are two who certainly live that mantra. I am so lucky to have been influenced by them, and continue to be still.