Simplicity – an open letter to a friend

When photographer Ken Williams shared his photo gallery link with his friends, Cliff Bisch pondered what the concept of simplicity means to him as he viewed Ken’s eclectic images of rural America and living a simpler way of life, especially the photo triptych and blog post Pioneer School, Clark, WY.

Cliff wrote Ken a response that touched me so much, I asked Cliff if I could have his permission to share his thoughts with you. He kindly granted his wife permission.

Simplicity is a bit too hard to explain nowadays. Some of my favorite memories include laying down in 3-ft tall grass, throwing green oranges in the orange groves, the smell of fresh plowed dirt, digging tunnels in the dirt, and climbing in old pepper trees. It was all about the smells, even the smell of a campfire at a State Park campground when real wood was the fuel.

I do remember the smells of the classrooms, the gym, the sweaty gym clothes, the semi-warm milk cartons, the fresh mimeo machine prints in the morning; it’s the smells that really link out past, and the digital world has no smell. It wisks by at the stroke of a key. People are deleted from our lives, and likewise they have little lasting impact. They can be erased from the pictures, and replaced with a digital shrub.

My life is looking at this screen all day, every day. One keystroke and it is all gone. I have been longing for adventure in the real world. Sailing would be good, travel good in any form. But little stuff is OK, too. I really enjoy sharpening the blade on a hand plane so it cuts paper with no effort. Replacing a bearing so a motor does not howl. Adjusting a handlebar so that it is comfortable. Discovering how hard to hit a chisel so that the wood slices rather than tears. Finding new uses for tools that I never really understood.

Discomfort is not fearful.I like the morning mist on my face, rather than trying to fend it off. There is a certain reward in the rain soaking through my shirt. Getting uncomfortably chilled affirms that I was there to do that. The sore muscles are really a reward and proof of life. I am not wanting everything soft and perfect. True, a warm fire sure beats a dank room with a baseboard heater, but moisture sweating down the inside of the boat hull at night does not invalidate the slap of water on the hull and the echo of cormorants across the water at dawn.

Every wood has its own unique smell and taste. Birch and maple look remarkably similar, so the taste will tell them apart. Birch is Tinker Toys and Popsicle sticks that you used to chew on. Maple is dead and flat, without that marvelous twinkle in the flavor. Yellow cedar is intoxicating when you plane it; almost necessitating that you open the windows for the abundant sweetness. Real mahogany is as suffocating as a dust storm, though easy to work with and gorgeous when all tarted up.


Read more on L.E. Erickson about Ken E. Williams, Photographer.

Autograph Books & the gift of hand-written remembrances

This 1884 autograph album is one of my treasures.

Each month of the year is represented by a beautiful illustration.

Most of the entries are written with a quill pen.

“Act well with your heart, there all the honor lies.”

“May the bright star of hope ever guide you on your onward path.”

Enjoy turning the pages of another autograph book from the 1880’s – “hand-written “remembrances” in stunning penmanship… beautiful little sayings from a bygone era.”

Jump ahead with me to 1958. When I was eight, in Mrs. Roundy’s third grade class, my parent’s gifted me an autograph book with blank pages dedicated to Teachers, Class Officers and Big Wheels, Pals, Chums, Buddies, Etc. Those remembrances meant even more to me as those friends were left behind, friends I would never see again, when my parents moved our family 800 miles away to a place I’d never been before.. a place where as an extremely shy little girl, I had introduce myself to a classroom of strangers. I continued collecting sayings and signatures through the 7th grade. Here are some of my favorite sayings.

roses are red, violets are blue, I copied your paper, so I flunked too.

Never B-sharp (music note), Never B-flat (music note), Always B-natural (music note)

Page folded in half: Open in case of Fire > Inside: In case of Fire Stupid! Lots of luck in years to come.

May you life be like a snowflake; leave its mark, but no stain.

Love is something like a lizard; it runs up & down your spine and tickles at your gizzard.

If I were a bunny with fur as soft as fluff, I’d hop into your compact and be your “powder puff”.

Yours til the cow gives shaving cream.

I am right because I know you like me. I am right because I like you. You are one of my best girl frinds.

went you grow up not teach youy kids to spite thrugh a krak.

A sweet disposition and a pretty face will get you almost any place!

Do you have an autograph book or a signed yearbook from your youth? I would love it if you would share some of your favorite sayings in the comment section of this post.

On another note, I have started rereading letters from family and friends that I have saved for years. So much of my correspondence is sent or comes by email that I have been terribly remiss in handwriting letters and genuinely miss the enjoyment of receiving a handwritten letter and some of the thoughtful gifts that come spilling out – autumn leaves, sparkly stars, news clippings….

Has it been a while since you wrote or received a handwritten note? Perhaps you might be interested in reading The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication.

Would you like to reclaim civilized communication? If you will send me your address, I will personally hand-write you a note. If you would like to write to me, send your handwritten note to L.E. Erickson c/o Crow’s Nest SR 20, Port Townsend, WA 98368 USA.

Electra and the Charlotte Russe

The Smith Family Bookstore in Eugene is overwhelming, although a much smaller version of Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. The children book section on the second floor is challenging to negotiate your way through, as irregular towers of used books can be easily knocked over. I managed to bump against a short stack and watched helplessly as they toppled over and slid across the narrow aisle like a deck of slick playing cards into the alcove that held semi-orderly collections of books that it made onto shelves.

In the midst of half-a-gazillion children’s books, Electra and the Charlotte Russe reached out to me through the illustrated eyes of a young girl, her hair neatly tied back with a soft white bow and smiling lips, offering me a box of whipped cream-topped pastries. The title and the glossy, beautifully illustrated cover convinced me that it was going to be a sweet story. And indeed it is.

The author Corinne Demas tells a story about her mother, whose real name is Electra, when she was a young girl growing up in a Greek-American family who lived in a multi-ethnic neighborhood in the Bronx during the 1920’s. This is a story that has been retold in her family time and time again – it was time for Corinne to publish her mother’s story for others to enjoy (published by Boyd Mills Press in 1997). When you visit her website, you will see a photo of Corinne’s grandmother as a beautiful young woman.

The award-winning illustrator Michael Garland has given the story a delightful, visual nostalgia that draws us into the era, the family’s life, their friends and the humorous mishaps of a well-intended child. I read Electra and the Charlotte Russe aloud to my husband, and he also found the artwork and the story to be charming and well-crafted. I look forward to reading the story of young Electra, her mama’s special tea party and what happened to the box of pastries from Zimmerman’s bakery to my own daughter and granddaughter. A heartwarming story, which combines both personal history and storytelling for the enjoyment of both young and adult readers alike.

Electra and the Charlotte Russe encourages me to think further about the stories my own mother has to share about her childhood growing up with Norwegian grandparents that would make wonderful books for children.