Journey Toward Awesome

It’s one thing to accomplish something and another to be accomplished at it.

I was eleven years old and it was the beginning of august.

What I remember most about the accident was being numb to reality. There seemed to be more blood than one could have shooting out my arms. I didn’t die. I really hurt even though I couldn’t feel below my elbows anymore. The median nerves in both arms were cut by a sawblade coming loose. 100 miles in an ambulance at top speed, a skilled neurosurgeon pieced me back together and I awoke to a new life; one with no feeling in my arms and hands. My arms lived and nothing was amputated. The doctor told my mother that her son would have clothes-pins for fingers unless I learned to type or play the piano, the only hope to gain some function in my fingers.

I was destined to be a piano player. I was not destined to be an accomplished piano player. Ironically, I achieved a level of playing piano way beyond what I would have if I had not had my nerves cut off simply because I was at the piano three to four hours a day for the first three years just trying to get my fingers to work. Today I am called “gifted” when I play the piano in public. That’s bittersweet to me.

I was forced to do three things that made me at least somewhat successful in many areas of life. Three ingredients of ones “journey toward awesome” are participation, practice and perseverance. There are other ingredients but the learning and growing curve to be one of the best requires constant learning by doing again, again, and again with the goal of being better every time.

I discovered that when you work at something you get better at it

I thought of these three ingredients as I was trying to figure out how many hours I have invested in trying to photograph hummingbirds. Those little birds make me look bad. I am in awe at Sandra’s photography (she is an accomplished photographer of even hummingbirds…click on link). But I’m persistent and getting better and better. I keep finding new ways to maximize my equipment just as I found new ways to catch a basketball with no feeling in my fingers.

Yesterday I picked a very small space in mid-air where hummingbirds tend to travel to the feeder. I was hoping to get a couple of crisp clear in-focus pictures. I put the camera in “burst” mode on a tripod with a 300mm lens. I focused on the camera on that spot with the feeder on one side of the picture hoping to catch mid-air pictures. I started shooting when I heard the hum of wings hoping for a good catch. 200 pictures later I evaluate and come to some hard conclusions. I’m going to have to up my game, stretch my equipment’s capability and grow my knowledge of setting up for better shots. My best shots are worth sharing but not awesome. Click for a scroll through the slide show.

I’m working at photography. My wife asked me what would make a great shot. My answer was better color with a flying hummingbird grasping a bee in one claw and facing off with another hummingbird trying to chase it away…both in perfect focus at 1/2000 of a second to freeze frame the wings. I want to see the wings.

By the way, participation, practice and perseverance have some side issues that show up in the journey toward awesome. Patience is one of them. Imagine sticking your hand in the freezer until you cannot feel your fingers anymore; then go play the piano (or play a guitar, dribble a basketball, knit, sew, shake someone’s hand…). I spent hours getting my fingers to find notes that people with feeling could find in seconds.

Everyone’s starting point is different. Natural talent only means one could be accomplished at something quicker than most people. Ironically, most people with natural talent settle for mediocrity while those who have to really work at getting mediocre keep going.

participation, practice and perseverance spill over into every aspect of life. I have a childhood friend who became a very accomplished engineer. No small feat for someone who could not get better than a D in math in high school. He would spend hours to others minutes trying to grasp concepts. When he grasped those concepts they were for life and not just for the test.

This is our “Journey toward awesome”. Be it photography, sports, work, living on what we make financially, relationships with God, spouse, family, neighbors and country. It all counts. It all spills into the others for good or bad. I had the best compliment yesterday “you are an awesome neighbor!”…to which I replied “thanks, but I do want my Sawzall back in one piece” as he drove away on his ATV.

I walk back to another project I’m working on. One which will take me much longer than an accomplished person. The end result will make me look “gifted” when really it’s just an accomplishment. May you be bittersweet “gifted” as I have been. I have had long talks with God about how life works…he just says “I know, I’ve been there. Your journey to awesome is, well, awesome. You’ll see”.


PS: Here is a link (moms song) to my piano playing. Some of you will recognize the old hymn. I made a special rendition of moms favorite song as she was bowing to cancer.

A Good Interruption Solution?

I freely admit that I don’t mind most interruptions. I plan for them. If I don’t get one I make one myself. Not on purpose mind you, it must be a subliminal signal from within when the light turns green and it’s time. Most of you do it too (I hope someone can relate!?) It starts with a to do list.

Follow my reasoning here. I needed to mail a letter. It’s a couple hundred yards to the mailbox. The shop door is open and the light is on. It’s sort of on the way. I step inside to turn the light off but I had the ATV battery charging and it’s all charged so I unhook the charger and put it away. My ATV is faster than walking (so much faster and frankly quite fun). I open both big doors for some fresh air for the shop and take the ATV to go to the mailbox.

We have two driveways. One is less used and has a view over a hill in the forest as well as a view of a nice ATV trail. I glanced down the trail and…I see a tree blew down across the trail. No problem as I have the chainsaw strapped to the ATV from my last ride through the woods to clear a couple of trees. I go down the trail and cut up the tree and stack the firewood beside the trail. I’m this far so I might as well see if there are any more trees down on the half mile of remaining trail. I make it passable and am out of gas with the chains saw. I sharpen the chain and put gas in it for the next outing. Sigh…where was I?

I know you are wondering where the letter went right?? I found it 4 days later on the seat of my truck. I grabbed it and ran to the mailbox and mailed it. Oh, and about my to do list; nothing was crossed off that day even though I WAS SUPER BUSY DOING THINGS THAT NEEDED TO BE DONE ALL DAY.

My next younger brother has a better system than me. His system allows him to cross out everything on his list. At the end of the day his crossed out list is quite impressive. Whenever he does something he writes it down and crosses it off. Problem solved.

A long time ago a little pamphlet came out called “Tyranny of the Urgent” One of the quotes “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.”
― Charles E. Hummel, Tyranny of the Urgent

I shall leave it right there. We are all in a different place between the urgent and the important. Let me suggest there is probably not enough time in life to do all of both. In my life relationships are more important than stuff. God, family, neighbors, fishing, photography, friends and blogger friends make the top 7. But, sometimes, an interruption beats everything out.

Case in point. I was walking back from the mailbox (after missing the mail-lady) and the robins were going crazy…again. I looked and looked and then spotted our visitor. Off I went for the camera. The little Barred owl posed. I put the camera on a tripod and took some “worthy to share” pictures. I also brought my camera fishing as I was walking by the boat, water ready, and decided to call the neighbor to go fishing. We caught good fish, enough for two meals each and had great conversation. I crossed these off my To-Do List. Hmmm…a productive day.

Click to enlarge any picture or use as slid show


Keep Your Balance

I fell. I lost my balance, stumbled and fell. Perhaps it was the 80 pound back pack I was carrying shifted as I stepped over a big rock onto a smaller round rock. Perhaps the stack of dry boulders beside the white water river was not a very safe place to walk, even though it was the only possible place to walk. Realistically, I was still too weak after being sick. After 67 trips during my life through this wilderness area, I miscalculated my actual abilities for our first days portages. I fell four times.

To put a pack or canoe or both on and portage overland requires balance. I had somehow lost my fine-tuned sense of balance without knowing it. A fall with 80 pounds on ones back and shoulders could wreck a canoe, break open food bags, crush the cooking equipment or just break ones bones. I have helped get people out of the wilderness for immediate emergency surgery from falling. I was fortunate, this time. The campsite food and equipment was fortunate as well. We made camp early. For me. In 67 trips, stopping to camp early for me, was a first.

Quite a climb for a great view. A rock the size of a city block and just as high..

Losing one’s balance is more than humbling. It puts everyone else at risk.

I share this fail of mine for more than one reason. Balance is an important ingredient of every area of life; be it mental, physical social or spiritual. I’m quite sure in our honest moments we know where we fall short. I wish I had been more honest with myself before tackling this series of very hard portages.

A nice evening campsite view.

I suppose there are many conclusions one could draw from my experience. I have many. Reality is sometimes quite different than perception. My physical strength, stamina, balance and ability to overcome all obstacles had taken a fork in the road from reality. This makes me wonder about my perception in other areas of life.

When the water is calm, I am invincible. When the trail is smooth and flat, I can carry a heavy pack and canoe over a short portage. When my perceptions line up with circumstance, I’m really okay in my little corner.

Walking the rocks is the portage. Balance and strong ankles required.

I used this old picture to show a portage consisting of stepping on the rocks. With a heavy pack or canoe one needs balance which requires strength from the feet up. I have seen people in the wilderness trying to portage with flip flops on their feet (“I’ll be fine”). It’s possible. That’s like trying to navigate life and eternity without God. I don’t know of many careers where flip flops are acceptable; beach bums and politicians comes to mind (did I just say that?)

Sometimes the skies weep. Sometimes they just dance and twirl colors while the rest of nature stills in reflection

I’m just thankful. The portage trail. Life. The good, bad, hard rocks, falls, fails and good times have been much like life for me. I have lost some strength and balance here and there. Recharging is longer and less. But, I have stories and friendships that touch eternity. You are a part dear reader. I wish everyone could experience a wilderness trip within your balance ability.

I also wish everyone could experience balance for every portage in life including the last final one into eternity.

My brother putting a canoe and pack down after a rough portage

Keep your balance…Gary

Outside Of Time

I have been gone. A small group of us canoed and portaged lakes and rivers away from knowing what time it is, internet wrangling, home, warm showers, soft beds, cars and most forms of communication to the rest of the world. Do smoke signals from the camp fire count? The wilderness is it’s own entity and one would be wise to learn an awareness of it’s ways.

I’ll write about it in a few days and catch up on 300+ emails and mow the lawn. meanwhile I’ll leave you with a couple pictures of God’s very rugged creation in this area of northern Minnesota known as the Boundary Waters canoe Area Wilderness. Header picture is a slice of our first evening in camp. In realistic context this feel good picture was tempered a bit by hundreds of mosquitoes and black flies yelling “goal…goal…goal”

Just a taste of an extremely rugged, harsh, beautiful, survival of the fittest-just try to bloom where planted-area. I am reminded of that the wilderness is much like the character of God; totally untamed.

If you haven’t missed me, that’s ok….Life goes on.


Cabin Fever Withdrawal

Expectations and reality. A good example of what it isn’t was sent to me by a friend who is getting a bit off kilter. “Day 12 without chocolate; lost hearing in left eye”. I passed it on to another friend who said “That’s it exactly!” I sent them both a number to call for a nice facility and the website for a virtual tour. They both surprised me and said “I have that number and website already, would you like to come with us for an interview?” Strangest interview ever, I had to answer all the questions for them. I got a cool bracelet when a friend said I was probably a “runner.”

Anyway, I’m side tracked a little bit by the masquerade called Spring. See for yourself. I even strung some words together, kind of like popcorn off the bottom of the bowl on a couple pieces of fishing line. If I seem a bit daffy, it’s that several inches of rain melting a foot of snow yelling “coming through” on it’s way to the gulf of Mexico from our small patch of land here in the north woods and lakes area. Then it snowed, got cold, froze, now it’s raining again and will snow again. I have been secretly meeting with summer after everyone falls asleep.

winter spring summer

Meet in woods summit

While gurgling waters rise.

Winter jewelry dangles

Spring runs down

Summer suns patient

A birthing room frown

Morning crackle sighs

Wears frosted icy gown

Trick a tree freeze frame

A beauty upside down

Yes, it’s spring dragging winter with one leg sensing summers invisible presence

Click to enlarge and short slide show

Somewhere under the flood is a three foot wide by two foot deep gently flowing river. I think of myself as more the gently flowing stream; not too wide or deep and fairly predictable. Well, maybe we should change the word “predictable” to “well meaning”.

I’m Okay. Really. Life is good here in the woods. I had a strange adventure getting back home from being ditched by my friends (another time story). Any advice on getting one of these strange ankle bracelets off?


Picture a Ping Pong Spring

Right now we are on the “pong.” for the 11th time. Last night the weatherman drew a big circle around our area on the northern Minnesota with a “to be determined” announcement as the time approaches. If this…then that type statements gave me a ray of hope for that profession. I have to admit, honesty is much more attractive than putting a spin on reality.

Ahh, reality. I’m watching the players around us here in nature with such a prolonged spring. Last night I went down to the lake to attempt a sunset reflection picture in an open spring. The rest of the lake (maybe) has two feet of ice. I took some pictures as beavers interrupted me. I listened and looked for the pack of wolves down the shoreline made throaty moans and long howls in the still air. They will choose a deer, pursue and take it down. They are extremely good at their craft.

Take a peek at some very recent pictures of spring. Thaw, snow, freeze, melt. Click to enlarge and for a clickable slide show.

I am a bit jealous of the many pictures of spring from somewhere else where buds, flowers and green grass (I think you call it) abound.

Speaking of reality…I told my wife a couple days ago, for her birthday I was going to get on my personal top secret “time machine” and document going forward and coming back. I would then report to her when spring would actually come to the north woods where we live. I documented it with this picture of me in my red checkered shirt and hat on… I have to turn the pedals quite fast to get there as you can see. I am also barely in the picture coming back.

Me and me… not photoshopped or layered. I can explain if interested

My report “I’m sorry honey, I could only go two weeks ahead and there is still rain and snow happening and the flowers are not pushing up through the snow”

On a personal note, I’m tired of the winter spring run-off in their 3rd overtime; so are the animals and birds. The geese, swans and ducks are all finding little puddles of water to remember how to swim. I see the beaver are hungry and have cut about 15 smaller trees down. I had a small lens in low light taking pictures and they were very close to me. I heard one say to the other “I think we can take him”. The deer, um, well, I can’t repeat what the deer said when I got too close to their little field.


PS…many of these pictures and more can be downloaded free from this link unsplash

Also, if you have not read my real life story dealing with an Angry Beaver I show my humorous side…enjoy

What Do You want?

I hope this helps the comment section of your own blog posts

Then blowing wet spring snow streaks the picture.

Turning from the newspaper touting the spring and summer clothing lines and swimwear “now in a store near you”, I glanced outside and muttered to Buddy the dog, “They sure don’t know what I want.” Buddy just whined and looked out the patio door wanting to play on the back deck in the 4″ of new snow. I stopped and took a “Buddy view” picture.

Buddy View picture out the patio door. 12″ predicted in next three days, but melting as well.

I opened the laptop and browsed emails. I noticed a comment from the last blog; a fun one as Nancy said “Your responses to commenters are every bit as insightful as your posts, Gary!” I sure appreciate that kind of comment because it means I might actually be connecting with total strangers that are getting less and less strange as we interact after the post. By the way, side note…yes read Nancy’s “Turnings” for a great way to present depth to a great insight”

Others have said similar things and I have always wanted to address this layer of blogging that many writers miss out on (possibly on purpose), thus my question “What Do You Want?” This question cuts past questions like “why do I write?” It goes for what you, in all your writings, are hoping to gain by posting your articles.

Bloggers often present swimwear in a snowstorm, to a percentage of readers; It’s the nature of strangers writing to strangers. If you want to know what turns your readers crank, strike up a conversation with them; either in your comment section or theirs. Tactfully. Tastefully. Come alongside and talk on whatever the comfort level they have with you (not necessarily you with them). Perhaps a friend in the making. Surely we can find some common ground with a quarter of the audience?

Yep still snowing outside. I need snow pants and a better shovel, not a swimsuit!

Think of going to class and listening (or not) to a nice, thought through, short, good, great, or boring and wordy lecture (whatever you decided to read). You usually do one of three things. 1) Go talk to the presenter, ask questions or make statements 2) leave without saying a word to anyone 3) hobnob with anyone or everyone else hanging around the perimeter and get to know some folks. One and three are the comment sections of a blog. There are perhaps dozens of blogs I will not go back to as the presenter doesn’t visit their own comment section. When they do it’s a smile and wave (click “like”)

So, what do I want? I want to share my pictures and life’s insights. I want to create conversations leading to friendships with some of the worlds most awesome people around the globe (you). I want to be a part of your next best seller or just help you get through chemo as a sideline encourager. I want to hear of your camping and hiking experiences and the storms you have encountered and survived. I want to see you face to face and be continuing this conversation a hundred years from now!

I know; bloggers are as plentiful as snowflakes and most of us make at least a small difference in this world.

One more thing, present to us readers something we can comment on. None of us are the beginning and the end as that position belongs to God. It’s a learned art to present an idea, insight, story, meanings and encouragements and turn the microphone back toward the audience. It’s a learned and practiced skill to be vulnerable without painting a target on yourself. Boldly top off your blog with uplifting comments that come alongside if possible. Don’t be like the cowboy riding off into the sunset without saying a word; us horses don’t want that!


Be a Buddy

Um, Why is the snow back???

North Country Spring

I realized it was spring this morning when I looked out the window and saw patches of ground growing in the snow. Five squirrels ran by the woods edge as one of them was saying he remembers where he buried some nuts.

The lake ice is holding all the snow melt so I had to disassemble my ice fishing shanty while standing in 8″ of water which is held by 25″ of ice still on the lake. I found some open holes in the ice so I kept a wide berth. Meanwhile a couple of early spring swans are shouting encouragement from the far shore as I am in the middle of their swimming pool.

Hey Swans, you are a little early

The wind has even started to feel warm in the north country and the whole earth has shifted gears for the bottomless muddy patches ahead. Not all is well in the world seems to be an understatement.

I have a file called “Hope”. Do we not all need “Spring” in our lives? Click on any picture to enlarge or start a slide show.

Meanwhile, the swans are still talking. I can hear them from the deck wondering why the lake is still covered with ice. There may be snow in the forecast, frost and much to melt, but make no mistake, spring is here. Hope is here

On a personal note, it’s been a tough winter here. Lots of deep snow has hurt the deer population and also deprived lakes from the sun. The oxygen producing weeds die and the remaining oxygen is used in decay producing “winter kill.” The wolves that survived as well as the bear waking up from hibernation will clean up the woods and the eagles will clean up the lakes. Nature is efficient without blinking. Instinct, it is what it is. People however are different.

Our family, extended to cousins, uncles and aunts, has been dealing with a plane crash (miraculous survival story for another time for her to tell), personal connections to the war, memory loss on two fronts and a host of other life’s seasonal things. Every family system has their front line issues. We freeze, thaw, bud and blossom, and at some point we die. My wife and I miss our parents deeply.

My wife and I often talk about the substance of faith and hope. Not the fluffy beliefs or the religious mantras; they belong with Santa clause and the Easter bunny. Yes, we are Jesus followers and yes, all our faith and hope is based on his life, death and resurrection. If that didn’t happen we have nothing. Our “substance” discussion is our own experience in having joy in the throes of sorrow and loss. There is substance in experiencing peace in the middle of our most turbulent times (like life flighting a daughter). It’s real.

This is why spring means so much to me. It’s way more than meets the eye. It’s way more than nature calling “clean up on lake 10, need more eagles!” It’s even more than a 180 pound timber wolf moaning deep in it’s throat as it’s almost dark, just beyond eyesight, and that chills me deep into my bones.


STA…Story Tellers Anonymous

I picked one of my first blogs to compare. It’s time to see how far my writers drift (that I just wrote about here) has gone. I think I’m someone else. The following is a blog I wrote 10 years ago on April fools day back when I just started and none of my readers would click the “like” button. It was OK. I didn’t know what the like button was for back then. The jury is out (I mean far out…). The links still work, yea!

Monster Pike from a canoe, no net on 1# test, old fiberglass rod, fish was trying to eat the canoe!!!

I thought it was a great idea! I could start an outdoors club in our area under the guise of “Storytellers Anonymous”Cretian Certain relatives and friends would pay us to go!!!It would probably be a great fund raiser for the next high school band trip!

I can see it now; Johnny to old aunt mae“I’m raising funds to send our band to Washington DC to play for the president” Aunt Mae “I’m not paying you kids any money do such a thing!” Johnny “please Aunt mae, If we raise $1000 apiece our dads have to go to Storytellers ananymous  for a whole year”. Aunt Mae “I’ll give you $2000 myself to see that happen” Johnny “but I only need $1000”, Aunt Mae “I want him there for two years and he can’t get off for good storytelling”

fiberglass canoe, food pack, front tackle bag, mile long portages, 30 miles into uninhabited wilderness… Don’t stick your fingers in the water You will lose them to the hungry fish!

Just my way of helping all those outdoors people hobnob and plan their next outings and socially connect with the “others”. Of course they promise to learn how to tell their adventures in such a way that words, phrases, facial expression, and gestures would make people come alive, hanging vicariously on every word that came out of our mouths. “So Real, I’m living it, I could listen forever” would be common expressions of friends, enemies, and other relatives of those involved with the secret club know as “Storytellers Anonymous” (eye roll please except uncle Fred. That  one glass eye of yours doesn’t roll with the other one and that freaks me out).

-20 below zero 3 feet of ice, fish photoshopped to fit in picture! H… We are working on your story… STA

We would help each other with the proper embellishments due to the story. The logic behind embellishment is that a told story is not even close to the same as living it. I propose that proper embellishment can help the listener almost experience the excitement, fears, nightmares that night,and adrenaline (OK I haven’t worked the adrenaline part out yet) that accompanies good story telling techniques. One reaches a whole new level of holding the audience breathless when you believe the story yourself. Just a heads up: psychologists disagree with me on where that level is, and have strange beliefs  about the really good story tellers and where they should live

Now this is a fish story!!!

Now I know this fish was caught through two feet of ice in three feet of water on a stick with some line on it. You should hear him tell it!

Being I am posting this on April fools day, Those of you who do not know me in person but read the blogs – know I would never exaggerate on any other day(cough-hack-twinge of TGIA1st).

For another good April 1st blog, check out my niece Elena’s here
Yes the Billy Joel kid can fish.   pictured above (I’m mixing in Elena’s blog here)

Someday some of my extreme wilderness bear stories and wild rescue stories will be told here and only here. No one else has the rights to my life’s adventures so only at can you get it…or around a campfire at night on one of my trips. I will tell you about how a bear got our food pack hanging 15 feet in the air between two trees, grabbed most of the food. I went after the bear with a flashlight in my teeth at 2AM and got it back. True story but working on reverse embellishments or you really wouldn’t believe me. Maybe I’ll tell it like it is because I believe it!

Have a good April Fools day! 

If you would like to learn how to write better than me, do nothing. However if you want to get good at it I strongly recommend Kristen Lambs blogs on writing and social networking. Good stuff

Advertisment: Top secret photo-shop lessons given next STA meeting


Conclusion: Sigh…I think I have grown old and more serious. Life beat us up quite a bit in 10 years. parents now gone, a good friend gone, life flights with our middle daughter, 2 surgeries and a job loss. Lots of floundering. I think I need to recapture some humor. Seriously! go ahead, comment away those who have read my posts before. I can t-t-ta-take it.

Wander Into Wonder

I wonder about wonder and wander here and there.

Large fluffy flakes with no wind in subzero temps perched loosely wherever. The most fragile of loosely knit flakes. Rare. A thousand flakes might equal one raindrop. Brilliant white cotton candy snow. I long to share what can’t be seen. Words fall as short as time with eternity.

Click for enlarging pictures and wandering through. Enjoy the perspectives and maybe feel a bit of wonder from my recent wander-about in the thigh deep snow.

To wonder is one of my personal signs; creativity levels, another sign. It means I am Okay inside. When life is hard and cold and I wander into wonder, there is joy in my innermost being.

It’s not the snow or nature or the wonder of it all, it’s the wonder in me that can enjoy natures wonder beyond words expressed.

Wonder meets wonder, acknowledging the artistic beauty, longing for more. Knowing I am alive, really alive. I have barely any significance (outside of those who know and accept me), or want any, from a world of billions of people. I know and am known by my Creator. Pure wonder.

Some, like my mother, wander to their wonder in the garden. Dad found wonder in the earth planting and harvesting. Some wonder in the shop or the kitchen and others on mountains, lakes and rivers. Always though, at it’s best, there’s more. When one has experienced the best of the best of times, there’s more.

Go ahead…comment away on your wonder and your more…


PS: I’ll put some of these pictures in the full version on my free download Unsplash page for your use.