If you imagine enough with courage & convictions the many experiences in life will open the world up to you...
My life didn’t start out in nature with multiple animal interactions creating this long-lasting admiration for all things great and small. It started in the city of Chicago, then to other parts of Illinois. Now if you have been to the Midwest everyone would like to say it is all pretty similar, and farmland. For the most part this is true, but Illinois might be flatter than anywhere else. You have cities, small towns left over from years of farming, soybeans, corn, or empty fields in the Winter. Unless you grew up sort of hunting near a run of trees by a field or near a river, then access to the forest has become very limited at this point.
This created a sense of something so wild in Nature that you only watched on T.V., or visited in the zoo as a child. So, when trying to think of what it was that exactly got me to this point; it was a lot of different experiences, and being able to see things in front of me. When an interaction happened with an animal I always could grasp that we are here to help them, and coexist. It was almost a gift to stop enough for a minute to see. This feeling grew from watching “Wild Kingdom,” anything created by National Geographic on PBS, while studying biology and chemistry in school, and just becoming more curious about life. With movies and imagination, you can go far away and almost even feel the experience if focused on enough.
But, in 1988 Sigourney Weaver starred in “Gorillas in the Mist” that portrayed the life of Diane Fossey, and her courage to help save the Mountain Gorillas from poaching. This movie opened my eyes to see a part of life that changed over time with experience. After almost 30 years I understand that the movie demonstrated real altruism to me, and why we can think. It is for helping whatever might be in need at the time compassionately without judgement. This even meant animals, and everything else when you can help. I have found, helped and even saved rabbits, owls, fox, cats, dogs, horse, birds of all sorts, snagged fish, every sort of creepy crawly insect, and even a Brown Pelican. If you relax enough to let go and help, something happens and the animal will let you be there for them. Even if only for that moment, and the energy felt from it never gets old. This sense of wonder would soon expand dramatically.
As a kid vacations were not something we could afford, so trips to beautiful places or Disney World was a dream away. It wasn’t until a friend asked me to go on a Summer vacation with his family as a teenager that the world opened just a bit more. Mike, Andrea, Jeanie, and Tom Olson became my surrogate family at times during adolescent/teenage years, and always loved being around them. Jeanie and Tom are still together, and just as unique as back then. So, going on a vacation with them was going to be a good time, and I had plenty of money from already working full time. The first time away from Illinois was magical, and it was like going from the Desert to the Rainforest for a teenage kid from Illinois that hasn’t seen anything.
The 4 of us started the trip heading towards the Badlands and Black Hills in South Dakota around the time of Sturgis. After leaving Illinois and Iowa, South Dakota opened up with beautiful rolling hills, and huge signs for Wall Drug. Images of “Dances with Wolves,” mixed with a 10 cent coffee and a free donut were bouncing through my mind while listening to a cd player. On the trip we got to see so many animals, met cool people from all over, and just felt really alive.
The highlights were taking an 8 hour spelunking tour in Jewel cave before the park service took over that is probably illegal to do now, The Little Bighorn and Beartooth Mountains in Montana, Jackson Hole with hiking to glacial lakes, alpine slides and Yellowstone... If you have never been there, I can’t explain it enough to demonstrate the glory. Even with it being the year after the huge fire that burned over 750,000 acres. The place and what Mother Nature can do blew my mind. The most memorable experience from the trip was taking a night drive to a huge open clearing full of Bison. Instead of being destructive, Mike and I got out of the car and just stared at the most amazing sky while we could hear and feel the Bison moving all around. It blew my mind, and can still see and feel it today.
At 16 I was well on the way to creating a life, but would be sidetracked from finding a true opening for about 20 years. Sometimes it takes a bit of experiencing life in different forms to grasp the nature of making a choice, and the results from it to gain knowledge for your path. So, instead of moving forward pursuing something in the natural sciences after High School, the U.S. Marines allowed me to leave Illinois faster. Looking back this was the right path, and seeing life and places was what I wanted more than anything at the time. Plus, it taught a sense of self-dedication that allows me to this day be able to keep trying at being better to give more expansively.
After the Corps the pace never slowed down, and sprinted with this idea of trying a lot of different things experiencing life. So, I jumped right into the corporate world working in the facilities side of corporate business working for State Farm installing phone lines, electrical, and cabling while moving offices during enterprise construction. In the morning school consumed the whole day, and would finish the afternoon before work training for bodybuilding competitions. It was an intense 3 years. After graduating from Illinois State University there was a very short stint at trying a desk job in wireless communications development. That lasted just over a year, and knew this was not for me. One day a teammate in the department named Ken was really in a complaining mood. In general he was a nice guy that loved to be a ref more than anything, and he had been at State Farm for about 30 years. It hit me like a wave that this current situation was not right, and that the thought of staying was more scary.
A week later I signed up to take the GRE, applied for Grad School in Exercise Physiology, and let the manger know thank you for the opportunity. At the time he was actually going to let me just take time off or work from home for a bit without question, but I knew down deep this was wrong. Before Grad school started, I began giving personal training sessions to build a client base, and really enjoyed the next 1 ½ years. After Grad school and working in a few opportunities in the health and fitness industry I was burnt out. After 20 years of beating my body into submission and competing it was getting old, and the industry seemed to be moving farther away from being naturally healthy.
So I picked up golf, started selling medicine, sprint running with crossfit workouts and trimming down from 250 lbs. in North Carolina by the beach. Perfect, right? The next 5 years almost seem as a blur now, and background filler that needed to happen to get to this moment. In that time we moved back to Illinois again due to an emergency in the family while trying to save a marriage. This also meant starting new careers, and finding our place in a community again. This lead to a period of excess trying everything we could get our hands on as well, sometimes all at once. Living on the physical plane looking for an opening, but still couldn’t find it completely or what that meant. Either of us.
Then in the winter of 2008 something finally broke. My shoulder just went… pop. Who knew it would be from shoveling snow after all the physicality for 33 straight years. After the first of 3 major surgeries failed something needed to change fast, and had to stop this time since life was going to be different no matter what. The biggest challenge would be that the physical part of me was not there to focus on while moving forward through bumps. How do you relearn to live your life, and deal with the challenges that surface when your main outlet is gone? It is different for everyone, and through all the loss, living, pain, joy, fear, growth, letting go, and trying new have never stopped using my mind. “Now what?”
The next week I bought a PlayStation 3, and a sketch pad with charcoal pencils. The PS3 is still only used for NetFlix, and art has become something so much more over the last 9 years. After another failed surgery, losing my career, selling a home in the middle of the economic crisis, closing a personal business, moving to Oregon, losing my best friend to date, and a divorce it will focus you if seeing it. Since beginning this journey of finding creation through art, I have always known that the purpose was to express connection, and there is an aspect of destruction with the process of creation. What exactly that meant was a bit of a mystery at first, it can be defined in numerous ways, and the way to connect will evolve over time. As our focus becomes more clear, it should be easier to relate or see the world. How that is defined and expressed is individual, and with clarity it will resonate with others.
With that said, I would like to thank all the people who have encouraged me through the years to keep pursuing this path, and have pushed me without even knowing it. The completion of this book is the result of 42 years of living while experiencing and reflecting on life. It combines a first love of all the numerous forms of life with my strongest conviction that we are all meant to be creators in some way. Over the years there hasn’t been a time where it was hard to create, or stopped due to feeling something. I paint while happy, mad, angry, sad, hungry, stuffed, sleepy, awake, or in complete bliss. But, in 2015 the work was leaning back into black and white and was looking for something more substantial to work on that would give, and potentially engage a larger audience.
Luckily, Lesia (my partner) has always encouraged me to create, and it is how we met. To the point that the phrase… “I can always get a job if we need too,” is not allowed in our home anymore. One day she asked me to create a couple pieces of art for some very good friends having their first child, and at the same time I was just starting out regularly meditating every morning. The world was expanding quickly, and it was becoming very apparent that it was time to take a greater role in providing purpose giving back to this planet even though letting go, creating, and becoming more minimal had been a major part of life already. So how do you do that?
Over the last 8 years I had been letting go of everything from the traditional American life, and had become quite minimalistic. When finally reaching a point where everything you own is used, then one must get resourceful on becoming more impactful. Reusing as many things as possible, letting go of plastic as much as possible, walking, no car, no paper towels, eating and shopping local, sharing rides and space, donating art, preparing your own meals, giving time, product or money for good causes, and the list goes on what can be done. But how does one give back from the core? This is a personal question each one of us will ask ourselves at some point, and it is up to each one of us to find the answer.
No one answer is right, and this book is an expression of how I see life not just the animal kingdom. If aware and acknowledging life, then the world will open to you and beauty abounds. The experiences each of us have in life leads to ageless wisdom giving knowledge, courage and bravery to take action. Enjoy and I hope this book encourages you to look more with focus so you can shout out… “Did you see that?”
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