We all need a little Walden Pond season, or at least some time to retreat to a little cabin in the woods every once in a while. I am fortunate to be able to visit such a place every year. It is perfectly my kind of cabin, complete with beds, ovens, electricity, showers and a little country store at the marina. I am quite certain that if Henry David Thoreau had such a cabin, he might have stayed at Walden forever. Stepping back is often the best way to step forward when contemplating our place in the universe and how we can find meaning in life. Deeper thinking, reprioritizing priorities and ultimately discovering new ways to serve others often happens in places of natural beauty and majesty.
A week at Priest Lake in northern Idaho always provides a priceless opportunity to disconnect, even slightly, from the rat race and chase of everyday living. Technology has made it less secluded than in the past, but there is still that awesome sense of wonder that comes from being closer to nature, the joy from time spent closer to family and the chance to experience anew the things that matter most.
The cabin on the lake was the brainchild of Bill and Joan Casper, my mother-in-law and father-in-law. They were farmers — the beyond hard-working, superfrugal kind of farmers who could do more with a little than most people could ever do with a lot. I was forever amazed that they could turn a dust bowl in southeastern Washington into a 10,000 apple tree orchard. They were the kind of miracle workers who blessed countless lives and left an amazing legacy through laser focus on their goals, sheer determination and an abundance of faith. They worked a lifetime to not only provide opportunities for their nine children but to also create and ensure there would always be a perpetual space for their posterity to gather, learn, connect and experience their own Walden moments.
As I sit in the cabin this week overlooking the lake, I love to listen. I love to hear the silence of the early morning, the splash of the lake upon the shore, the squeals of delight from my grandchildren, the conversations about goals, hopes and dreams from my children and discussions about principles with wise and dear friends.
The words of William Henry Channing have been on my mind this week. In his own Walden moment, he wrote, "To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not, rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common — this is my symphony."
From up here at the lake, I would add a few Walden thoughts of my own.
In all of our striving, we would be wise to set aside time to think deeply and time to think of nothing at all. We should create space to enjoy the best of the people around us, young and old, rich and poor, successful and struggling — we can learn much from each, and we can add value to many.
We must never be content with mediocrity, but always content with the small and simple blessings and tender mercies of life. We would do well to focus on our total wealth, which includes our talents, opportunities, relationships, experiences, wisdom and happiness, and not just a bottom-line tally of our monetary assets.
We should avoid hurry sickness like the plague and turn off the beeps, tweets and buzzers that tend to run, and often ruin, our days. In short, we should make each day a masterpiece and remember that what we do with this day matters because we are trading those precious hours and minutes for something. We should maximize those moments so that when tomorrow comes, we will not regret the price we have paid for today.
I am most thankful for the Walden-esque vision of Bill and Joan. Though they both have left this world, they left something behind that blesses me and my family every year. More than a not-so-little cabin in the woods beside the peacefulness of Priest Lake, they left the perfect spot for us all to consider what matters and to prepare for whatever is next in life. Above it all, they left us an example of how to achieve what Thoreau once taught — that if the day and the night make one joyful, one is successful.
Finding a little bit of the magic and simplicity of a Walden Pond or a cabin in the woods, even the in the midst of our busiest days, is always worth pursuing.