Admittedly there have been moments in the past few years where one might argue that I have had too much spare time. There are instances, often in the middle of a writing project or some other responsible task, when I suddenly feel overwhelmed by the need to break away and create some whimsical art.  The project is usually fully spontaneous and rolls freely right off my right brain.

Born in the Midwest with primarily a Scandinavian lineage, I am cursed and blessed with a strong work ethic. Some days I forget to eat lunch and other days I am so burned out that I am poor company later in the day. The work ethic can both serve me and imprison me.

So how does one find balance? My wife, Nancy, and I enjoy reading. We have a practice of having a read-aloud book as well as our private reads. Currently we are reading Helen and Scott Nearing’s classic  Living the Good Life. This sturdy couple was the stuff of legends.

One discipline they strictly adhered to was the daily practice of working four hours for their sustenance, they called it “bread labor” (i.e. gardening, tapping maple trees, building fences, buildings, etc.) and then an equal number of hours in grubbing creativity from the right brains. They would read, write, work on speaking engagement pieces or create something for the sheer joy of creation, simplicity, frugality and purposeful living. Operating on low overhead costs, they built their own stone buildings on two farms in New England and they created productive, organic gardens while writing, speaking and living a life committed to sustainability, and social and economic justice.

Imagine if we were not so wedded, or perhaps shackled is a better word, to the notion of working eight plus hours for a minimum of five days a week.

What would your life looked like if you could remove debt, reduce buying stuff and junk? And instead, live frugally, grow your own healthy food, move your body to a sweat every day and then wallow blissfully in a shower or tub and spend the rest of the day learning and creating.

Even if the Nearings had had the opportunity to buy a home computer, I think they would have enthusiastically shunned any such technology.

In recent years, I have come to embrace my affliction of  “spontaneous outbursts of creative expression “(SOCE). Rather than shove them aside, I am more likely to say to myself, “Why not?

Let me share my most recent episode. We had dropped a tall, old red oak that had stood tall next to the yard. Clean up included cutting all the branch tips and hauling the long pieces to brush piles in the woods. These have become cottontail hideouts and, based on past observations, likely nesting haunts for brown thrashers.

I cut the rest of the tree  into firewood chunks. I had gone into the garage to fetch up some splitting wedges to work on the thick butt end of the oak. I glanced over to the wall where I spied a unique old wood door leaning against the wall.   Salvaged  from a long abandoned  farmstead,  it was one of those items that I figured I would someday have a use for. Suddenly, out of the blue,  I had the urge to hang the door. It would fit perfectly at the edge of the yard where we have a trail that heads south through the woods to the edge of a county park.

I erected the door  with no adjoining walls or fence.  While the solo door looked compelling it was utterly lonely. So, like an autumn red squirrel back and forthing to its spruce cone caches, I hustled to my brush pile and dragged oak tree toppings to the door. I leaned them against a pair of slender oak joists that I had raised behind the door. The effect was that the door invites you into a large brush pile. An old barren ground caribou antler and several whitetail antlered skulls are affixed to the door structure. It’s intriguing, inviting and a little spooky all at the same time.

I’ll admit it’s a bit odd to have a door with no walls. This is a symbolic portal to leave the shards of civilization behind us as we merge into the woods. One could argue that the old door with the small round window, a portal eye, is the entry door into the home that best sustains us. Indeed the natural world was our species’ first home and we forget that as a species, we alone are capable of destroying it. I’ve found that upon entering this woodland portal, silence is more likely received than the usual “Hey-I’m-home!”salutation.

Another art project that evolved from a task happened a couple of years ago at the Outpost in the Yukon Territory in northern Canada. It was early April though the landscape clearly looked winter. I had shoveled a path through the heavy wet snow to our fire pit. We were going to celebrate the advent of April by grilling a quartet of moose steaks for supper. With the job completed, and perfect sculpting snow at hand I experienced a surge of SOCE.
I grabbed a few props, I I   I  including the remains of a six-pack of my favorite Yukon Brewery beer, Lead Dog Ale, and carried them to the top of Pulpit Hill. This high knob directly behind our house overlooks the Watson River. I hastily made a bench and then began to roll the three body parts needed to create a snowman. In less than twenty minutes I had created a late afternoon buddy to share a beer with me. I’ll confess the discussion we had was totally one-sided but I couldn’t help but reflect on the “Bard of the Yukon,” Robert Service  and his infamous opening line of the poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee.
“There are strange things done in the midnight sun. .  .”

Hmmmm. I wonder if Service was afflicted with SOCE.

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