Sunday, August 26, 2012

Friends Matter!

Robin & I: 1971 - going for a Guiness Book record

School started this week. As I watched 970 students arrive to middle school I was reminded again how important having a friend is. No matter how scary or difficult a situation may seem, if you’ve got a friend by your side, it seems easier and far less scary.

Robin was my best friend in Springfield, Massachusetts. In the spring of 1971 Robin and I decided that we wanted to be in the Guinness Book of World Records. We pitched the idea to our parents who all agreed it was a great idea. The best plan Robin and I could come up with was to enter in the category for longest time on a dipsy-doodle (plastic see-saw).  Our parents quickly agreed it was the perfect idea. Hours on the dipsy-doodle would be easy to supervise.
We began rocking early in the morning on the driveway of Robin’s house. Friends and neighbors stopped by to visit. Grownups brought snacks, teenagers came to tease and torment us, and younger siblings, Beth and Mark, entertained us. No one thought we would last very long. We rocked on. My dad took pictures. You may notice that the sign in front of us indicates 9pm and we are looking wet. It is raining. We're smiling. We rock on. The neighborhood goes to sleep, we rock on.  I don’t recall how long we stayed on that dipsy-doodle, but together we proved that we were a force to be reckoned with, and we had the strength, determination and persistence to reach our goal.

Six years later Robin and her family came to visit us in Nova Scotia. When Robin and I asked my dad if we could pack up the canoe, paddle across the pond, down the creek to the “big lake” and camp out on the island in the middle, he took pride in our adventurous spirit and quickly agreed that our plan sounded excellent. Robin and I began packing.  Mom and dad began fighting (I did not know this until very recently).
Mom thought dad was crazy for letting two young teenage girls go off by themselves to a remote island unsupervised. She immediately pictured the secluded beach on the “big lake” which often had signs of parties left over, smashed beer bottles being the main concern. Dad who couldn’t imagine anyone ever wanting to hurt another could only imagine the adventure Robin and I would have. He knew I’d come back with great stories.

A compromise was reached. Robin and I could go but only if we took our German Sheppard, Timmy. We did.  We paddled off on our adventure. We reached our destination and pulled the canoe to shore. We walked into the untamed woods and found a small clearing to set up camp. We built a fire, prepared our dinner and were thrilled with our accomplishment. We giggled and swapped stories until long after dark and then we put the fire out and crawled into our sleeping bags.
In the stillness of the night Timmy began to get restless. We began to hear voices, music, laughter and shouting. The party on the shore beach had begun. Robin and I got scared. We comforted each other with the knowledge that we had pulled the canoe out of view, just as mom had instructed. We had put the fire out, just as mom had instructed. No one would know we were there. We stopped being scared and even began to feel smug in our courage. Then Timmy began to bark. We were terrified. Now they would know someone was on the island. We began to imagine bad things, but quickly convinced ourselves that although he wasn’t, at least Timmy sounded like a ferocious guard dog. But mostly we were comforted in the knowledge that drunks would never attempt to swim out to the island.
We didn’t sleep much and packed up camp early the next morning. Although we’d been scared most of the night, we felt a sense of pride in our accomplishment as we canoed back to our pond to see our parents waiting for us on the dock. We never told them how scared we’d been. It no longer mattered. We were safe. We’d reached our goal. We had stories to tell. We’d do it again in a minute.
Friends matter.
Everyone has a story to tell . . .
Resources for the curious mind:
Robin's running for NY State Senate!!
Curious about Springfield, MA:
Visit Nova Scotia:

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mishaps -n- Mayhem: Arterial Bleeding is BAD

Would you allow your seven year old daughter to play in the woods with an axe? Of course not, that would be crazy!  My parents were crazy, and I am ever so thankful!! 

Not everything in Nova Scotia went smoothly. We had our share of mishaps and mayhem.
The process of building a log cabin in the woods, without power tools or prior experience, is bound to create a fast learning curve. It also requires an “all hands on deck” approach.

Our goal that first summer, 1974, was to complete the building of our 12 X 16 one room cabin on a budget of spare change. The budget restraints required that all building material would be found on the land, with the exception of the three windows which we brought with us from our home in Massachusetts, and that child labor would be a necessity. The building site was only accessible by paddling or sailing across our pond or hiking several miles through the thick trail free woods. The remoteness of the land was intentional as my father had previously determined that his family was no longer fit for public camping.

Dad had spent the previous year reading, How to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods. He kept the book in the bathroom and read in short intervals absorbing the information slowly and thoroughly. Although the rest of the family noticed the book and the increased amount of time dad spent in the bathroom, we did not have a clue as to what we were in for. By the time we arrived in Nova Scotia dad was prepared and the rest of us were just beginning to understand his vision.

After exploring our land and picking the spot for our cabin, jobs were assigned. We started by exploring the woods and marking trees of the appropriate diameter which appeared to be straight. My brothers, ages 24, 17 and 15 along with dad would pair off with two man saws to fell the trees. It is important to note that when a tree falls in the woods, you best get out of the way. Eric didn’t, but he is superman and got up and walked away. There are times when a tree would be cut, but refuse to fall. The tree’s branches would get hung up in the upper canopy of the forest and simply lean rather than fall. In that case one of my brothers would climb up the tree with a saw, remove the branches and ride the tree down. I so wanted to do that, but was declared too small.

Once a tree was cut down, we used hand saws, axes and small hatchets to trim it of all its branches. Beth and I, ages 7 and 9, were assigned small hatchets to assist with that process. Once cleaned of its branches and cut into 12 or 16 foot segments the log would be dragged or floated to the cleared site. Afternoons were spent working together to strip the bark off the trees and notch the ends in preparation for the building.

Stripping bark off trees is really not difficult, if done quickly after the tree is cut down. However, the sap is incredibly sticky. Here’s what I learned the moment a chisel flew out of my brothers’ hand, across the clearing and down my sister’s leg: Chisels are sharp, arterial bleeding is BAD and my family moves fast.  Immediately my father began shouting out instructions as he held on to and applied pressure to my stunned sister’s leg.  Mom ran for the first aid kit. Chris dug through the tent for the car keys and proceeded to run through the woods to get the car and drive it to the location across the pond most accessible by boat.  Eric ran down to the shore to get the sailboat ready. Brian helped mom and dad apply a compression bandage to the wound, a deep slice down the side of her leg from knee to ankle. I sat frozen and wide eyed quietly trying to get my sticky chisel out of my hand.

We loaded Beth into the sailboat, and I went with mom and dad for the trip to the nearest hospital which was one pond and 30 miles of dirt roads away. My brothers stayed behind to finish stripping trees and notching the ends. We were on a schedule; work must continue. Our goal must be met; ten logs each day.

Recently at a family gathering Chris noticed the scar on Beth’s leg and said, “I am so sorry I did that to your leg.” Everyone in the room turned, stared at Chris and began to laugh. Beth answered, “you didn’t do it, Eric did.” Chris was amazed! Years of guilt for nothing.  Shared memories are interesting.

Our family goal was met that summer and we were proud of our accomplishment.  Our cabin still stands today. The mishaps and mayhem of that summer have strengthened the bonds of my family for a life time.

What mishaps have strengthened your family? What's your family goal?

                                                         Everyone has a story to tell . . .

(photo's by Ted Johnson 1974: Pic 1 - Beth, age 7 / Pic 2 - dad and Brian, age 24)
(see prior post, "Bring a rock!" for picture of cabin)
Resources for the curious mind:
Don't want to build a cabin . . . but up for a hike? :
Plan a trip to Nova Scotia:
Need to set a goal:
Wilderness First Aid Kit:

Sunday, August 12, 2012

My Outhouse With A View

August 12, 2012

Nova Scotia:  1974 – 1984

It is remarkable to me that until quite recently I never gave much thought to the ways in which my Nova Scotia summers formed the person I’ve become. I spent many of my  summers from the age of 9 to 19  away from friends, TV and telephones in the wilderness of Nova Scotia with my family: mom, dad, three older brothers, a younger sister and our faithful companion Timmy, our German Sheppard. We lived each summer without a connection to the outside world – no cell phones, or internet. We spent our time building a log cabin and improving it each summer. Our evenings were spent around the table playing games – Yatzee, Canasta, and Trivial Pursuit or telling tales of the adventures of the day. Mom and dad took turns reading aloud to us by the light of the lantern after we climbed into our bunks in the rafters. I fell asleep to the sound of my father’s voice and woke to him clattering around the cast iron stove in the morning.

Our days were filled with jobs and hard work, “Bring a rock!” (see earlier post), but there was much time for lazy afternoons canoeing, sailing, swimming and exploring. I remember disappearing into the vastness of those woods feeling that I’d been gone so long mom would surely have sent out a search party. I would get lost sitting on a stump staring at the ferns blanketing the forest floor. I would sit, stare and think of the adventures I would have in life or just think of nothing at all. It was peace. Sometimes I would stare across the pond at the Clive’s cabin and wish for electricity wondering how to get it across the pond.

I remember spending hours in the water. We bathed and swam daily. I learned that ivory soap floats and this was important. I remember jumping off the dock my sister and I built, floating in the water watching the clouds go by, feeling weightless, free and connected to my world. I remember the leaches along the shore!! Yuck! Yuck! Yuck!

I remember the outhouse my dad built. It was located down an isolated path from our one room cabin. It had three walls, a roof and an amazing view of the lake. At sunset the view went from amazing to spectacular when it was accompanied by the songs and dance of the loons on our pond. My friends think our three wall outhouse is absolutely hilarious but to me it was perfectly normal. Now I know my dad was a genius. Why would you want to sit in an enclosed stinky dark room when you could spend your time enjoying the view?

Thirty years later this is what I know:  the smell of the woods enters your soul and never leaves, life in the wild will change you forever, teenagers can survive without electricity, running water and TV, we don’t need to be entertained 24/7, silence is good, unscheduled time is vital, very little in the way of material things are needed to live a full and happy life. It’s good to sit and enjoy the view every now and then.

                                                        Everyone has a story to tell . . .

(photo by Ted Johnson, AKA "dad" / Pictured: mom and Timmy)
Learn more about the importance of the woods and the new threat "nature-deficit disorder":
Learn how to capture your amazing stories from "Shimmering Images"
Find a place to get outside!!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

"Bring a rock!"

August 5, 2012

Some events stick with you forever and shape the person you become in ways you never really understand.  Recently I came across two old photos’ that reminded me, in a profound way, where I come from and where I want to be in life.

The first was a photo of a log cabin my family built in Nova Scotia in 1974. I was 9; this is what I remember.

“Bring a rock!” . . . That phrase calls out to me in my sleep. It is the sound of my father’s voice. The tasks of building a log cabin in the woods are varied. There is a lot to clear, ground to level, trees to skin and a foundation to create. While my older brothers had the task of cutting down trees with two man saws (no power tools in the wilderness) my younger sister and I had the task of carrying rocks up the hill from the lake to the site clearing for the cabin foundation. Cutting down trees seemed much more glamorous. But my father’s voice rang out, “Bring a rock!” and so we did . . . rock after rock after rock. I hated that job with a passion! And yet that simple annoying task did two things. It created the strong foundation of a cabin that still stands 40 years later and it cleared the rocky entry to our lake and made our daily swims easier and less “leachy”.

Today that phrase “Bring a rock!” has re-entered my psyche and has become a call to action. I hear my father’s voice, “Bring a rock!” each time I attempt to avoid the daily activity of writing and story seeking that is crucial to reaching my goals. It has occurred to me that while motivational speakers and writers talk about dreaming big and setting your goals it is really in the details, drudgery and repetition of the not so glamorous tasks that dreams are accomplished.

The second photo was of me at age 13 pointing to a stone etching of the word “author” and then pointing back to myself.  It was my dream at 13 to be a writer. And so I will begin. I will continue to seek, capture and tell the amazing stories of life found in ordinary moments.  But now I will also write and share those stories and help others to find their amazing stories.

My father’s voice urges me on, “Bring a rock!”  It’s my call to action. A call to build my work ethic, develop a focus on a goal achieved through the daily discipline of seeking the amazing in the ordinary. It is the building of the foundation that holds whatever dream sits at the top.

It is my father’s legacy. It is my future.  “Bring a rock”   . . . Share your stories . . . Build Your Dream!

What’s your dream?  What rocks do you have to carry to make it happen?

Everybody has a story to tell  .  .  .