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.

2 thoughts on “Simplicity – an open letter to a friend

  1. Ken williams says:

    A real darn big smile coming back to you both. Thanks for the thoughtful post Cliff and thank you Lee for adding it here.


  2. Ken williams says:

    And, one more comment. The photo of Cliff on a beach WITH the seagull looking indifferent is so appropriate to the tone of Cliff’s comments.

    Sweet …. : -()

    Thanks Cliff and Lee !!!

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