Tag: living well

The Lost Art of Making Do

When I can, I walk with The Ladies in the mornings. They range in age from sixties to early eighties. We walk up and down the dirt road, two miles in all. It allows lots of time for conversation. Many of them have lived in this tiny town most, if not all, their lives. They talk about the stuff of life, matter-of-fact, and do not dwell on the big questions. They are not blind to the big questions, far from it, but they think that if they pay attention to the details, the big questions will take care of themselves.

It is refreshing to be around them. No one talks about being unfulfilled—they are mostly retired from their jobs as factory workers or assistants, but even if they were still working, you get the feeling they wouldn’t complain. Be grateful to have a job, they would say; work at it earnestly and honestly and treat people the way you would like to be treated.

There is a simple honesty to the life of making do with what you have that is lost in our age of instant gratification. We want more because there is more—it is shoved at us so relentlessly that we have forgotten we have the choice to decide our own happiness.

The Ladies have mastered the art of being content.

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What Makes a Good Life?

When I was growing up, my father at dinner would ask us—each of the five kids in turn, going around the table—what did we do to improve the world today? And I remember feeling squirm-ily inadequate. Even though he always praised us for our paltry attempts to improve the world—“I babysat for Mrs. So-and-so,” “That’s helping!”—I held myself to a higher standard. Apparently his innocent question resonated with something deeper inside of me. And I thought everyone wrestled with this question.

I remember asking a boyfriend when I was in high school if he wondered what it was all for—an off-the-cuff question for me because of course everyone puzzled over this. I was shocked when he not only said “no”, but further said that if he ever did think about it he would probably just tie a rock around his neck and throw himself into a lake. Huh? It’s your duty to worry about the meaning of your life. I mean you can’t just live it, can you? As I get older, I realize that most people pretty much just live it and try to enjoy doing so, as far as I can see.

So is life a gift to be enjoyed, or a responsibility to be lived up to? What makes a good life?

Me, I lean toward the responsibility end of the spectrum, but every now and then I get moments of just living it and I must say, it feels like playing hooky—no wondering if you’re doing it right—no wondering if you’re living up to whatever you’ve been put on this earth to do…It’s a great and freeing feeling, but I also know that it is only, for me, the responsibility that gives the gift its value.

So I think what makes a good life is becoming a person you want to be with—realizing that you’re fine just the way you are.

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More Than a Place to Occupy

This past Memorial Day weekend, Richie and I visited the Acorn Inn in the Blue Ridge Mountains. While Richie rode his bicycle with friends each day, I loaded Buddy and easel into the car, heading out to paint.

Driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Shenandoah National Forest’s Skyline Drive, I marveled at the clear gradations of blue in the mountains. The Blue Ridge Mountains are old—three hundred million years old—and they once looked like those young upstarts, the Rockies (only one hundred million years old) before time wore them down to their roots. They fold into one another like a mussed up bedspread and for me they are just as cozy. I’m usually a more wide-open sky kind of person, but these mountains seem to hold one protectively, in an embrace.

On my drive, I visited Humpback Rocks mountain farm, a living history site of a typical mountain farm of the 19th (and probably 20th) century. Nestled into the hollow were the one-room chinked log cabin, the log shed and springhouse, the hopper for lye, the pig pen; each building without decoration or extraneous frill, only the spare necessity. I wondered why it all seemed so right. Instead of looking like poverty of the most meagerly sort; it looked instead whole and undivided.

Then I realized that the spare farm fed the body while the natural beauty of the mountain and the crafts its resources inspired, fed the soul.

I own a book titled “Mountain Homespun” by Frances Louisa Goodrich published in 1931. Goodrich had journeyed into the mountains to find its weavers and spinners. She visited with these people at their mountain farms, much like, I am guessing, the one at Humpback rocks, and wrote down their words. Here’s Aunt Liza, ‘upwards in sixty’ talking about the farm in the mountains where she has lived for over forty years: “…it puts feeling on to a body to see the moonshine falling on yon mountain…I don’t know, either, but what I like it here full as well along about daylight, when I’m up soon of a morning and the sky ferninst is all the color of them roses yonder. Here lately there’s been the prettiest kind of a big star, seems like it sorter hates to go out of sight a sun-up.”

Yes, it was a hard living, and a living in poverty by our standards of economic development, but it was also, I think, a rich living by the bigger standard of satisfaction.

I’m a rarin’ to draw it in and see how the spots come out. Shucks, ain’t it grand, the things they is to do and to find out about.” Granny Jude on receiving a new pattern to weave, from “Mountain Homespun.”

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