The Simplified Life

At the bottom of Herrietstown Hill, about 5 miles outside of Saranac Lake, NY is a northern Adirondack landmark. It holds as much meaning to area residents as the view of Whiteface or Slide Mountain. This is a family owned dairy called Donnelly’s. I worked there for over a year starting in the summer of 1980. I drove a refrigerated milk truck, making 4:30am home and commercial deliveries to Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. In those days, eggs, bottled milk, bottled heavy cream, cheese, yogurt, butter and other dairy products were brought right to the door step. It was the last hold-over of the horse-drawn milk delivery of years gone by, and I was very happy to serve our local communities in this way.

The centerpiece of the entire Donnelly “empire” was not it’s dairy, or it’s delivery trucks. No, that distinction came from it’s ice cream stand that stood in front of the farm. This sold, and still sells, the unmatched glory of “Donnelly’s Soft Ice Cream”. People drive from miles around, and never mind standing in line, to taste the creamy delight that pours out of those ancient machines. There are other places to buy ice cream, but none is quite as rich as Donnelly’s, and everyone knows it. The picture above is the sign in their window. It reads; “We pick the flavor, you pick the size”. It offers a “flavor of the day”, picked by the Donnelly’s, that is twisted with vanilla and gives an invatation for the buyer to pick how much of it they want.

To those who live in a consumer driven, cater to the masses, Starbucks-mentality kind of world, this is totally foreign. However, this business is a true reflection of simple, life unchanged in the Adirondacks. Those of us who are blessed to have generational roots in this place, know the rugged simplicity, and unchanged purity of life in these mountains. We also know and appreciate, the value of a good product that has stood the test of time. When I was a kid, the old timers always said, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. In other words, if it works, then just leave it alone. Donnelly’s “flavor of the day” is a clear example of that ideology. It basically all boils down to this; “Here is today’s flavor. Buy any size you want or step out of the line… NEXT!”.

This brings home a basic reality; life has the potential to be quite simple at it’s core. We all tend to make it unnecessarily complex, and full of pointless emotional drama. Our selfish demands, the desire for unending entitlements, and the need to satisfy the uncontrolled want for more of what we really don’t need, fuels the fire of complexity. We serve ourelves first, instead of looking for ways to help others. We do help, as long as it benefits us, and when it becomes an inconvience, we tend to find another cause to “support”. Many now march in the cities demanding change. They fill the streets with hollow voices that have no power, and make no real, lasting difference. Why? Because, these marchers have never paid a price for anything. Everyone knows a soft life has been handed to them, and genuine hard work, or the struggle to better themselves, is not part of their personal history. They are pampered frauds, demanding more of the things they haven’t earned, and don’t deserve.

These are the affluent unhappy, the entitled unappreciative. They live at a higher standard than most of the world and somehow still feel neglected, unheard and emotionally fragile. They demand change but offer no honest solution to their self-imagined problems. They are offended and angry when things don’t go their way. They resort to name calling and emotionally charged rhetoric when confronted by real facts. Worst of all, they use any position of influence or notatriety to degrade, insult, challenge and defame anyone who disagree with them. Listen to any Hollywood award ceremony and you will get an ear full. These have made living so complex with issues, emotions, fake news and vulgar comments, that there is no longer an ability to recognize the simple truths of an honest, honorable life.

This is where Donnelly’s ice cream comes in like a soft, sweet spring rain. It cuts through the excess baggage, eliminates the unnecessary, endless choices, and offers an honest, simple taste of reality in an unrealistic, liberal, snowflake world. They dont caters to every whim. They are not obligated to make you feel happy. It’s your job to be happy with today’s offering, and you get to pick just how much happiness you want. You can have the flavor of the day twisted with vanilla. That’s it! Don’t like today’s flavor, today’s situation? No problem. Keep smiling and come back tomorrow and things will be different!

This is life in its purest form, and you get to live it just the way it is, rather than control and manipulate it to meet your every want and need. Welcome to real, unrefind life in the raw. It’s a pure, personal, self adjusting kind of life that brings everything into focus. It hands you what’s out there, and you have to grow up, deal with it and learn to appreciate it for what it is. No sugar coating or chocolate sprinkles. No special blends of crumbled cookies and candies of your own choosing. Nope.. It’s the real deal, and you can either eat the flavor of the day and enjoy it, or go away grumpy, without it.

This is life simplified to it’s basic form. You either enjoy it just the way it’s handed to you, or you can come back another day and try another flavor. And what if you don’t like vanilla twist? Such is life, and this is not the place for you. You don’t get special treatment, you don’t have it your way, and no one is going to accommodate your wish for something else. My father put it to me this way one day when I was complaining. He said “Bill, life is not fair so it’s time to grow up, stand up and make the best of what comes your way.” Perhaps that is the point in living a simplified life. You might want 50 flavors but life brings you to Donnelly’s. The thing is, how you respond in that moment is more important than the flavor being handed out that day. Get back to the basics. Who knows, you might capture the life you always wanted.

A Life Worth Living

Image may contain: motorcycle, tree and outdoorOn May 16th, my grandson and I were coming home from the Wheelerville School. I was the substitute teacher in his classroom that day, and the bonus for him was that he got to ride on the back of my Honda Shadow VT1100C. We left school and came down off of Clip Hill, heading for  home in Johnstown, NY. The rumble of my motorcycle on that beautiful spring day was accented by the warm, moist air rushing by us, and the brilliant sunshine that was pouring down from a deep blue sky. It was one of the most perfect Spring days I have experienced in my 48 years of riding motorcycles.

We were traveling at normal highway speed in a line of traffic, and at a safe distance from the vehicle ahead of us. As we approached the Sir William Johnson Fire House, which was just outside of town, something happened. At that moment, I glanced down at my odometer to check the mileage, and make a quick mental calculation on when to stop and refill my gas tank. My eyes were off the road for about three seconds, but when I looked back up, terror gripped my heart. The driver in front of me had decided to suddenly break and make quick left-hand turn at the very moment I had looked down. It was a perfect storm of chance events, and the results were not going to be good.

When I looked up at the road ahead I realized there was not enough space to stop my bike, or manuever around the stopped vehicle. I downshifted, hit both breaks and leaned the bike over trying to protect my grandson, while getting as much stopping power as I could before we hit the vehicle. We impacted it’s rear right bumper at about 25mph and my bike went down on the road while my grandson and I were catapulted into the air. He ended up with a few abrasions on his knees, and a scraped up faceplate on his helmet, but I did not fare as well. My right side bounced off the road, I slid along the tar and finally flopped into a muddy ditch 35 feet away. I had a few crack ribs, four breaks in my lower right leg, an open fracture, cracked bones in my right foot, strained tendons and ligaments in my right leg, and numerous cuts and abrasions all over my body.

Ambulances came to take us to a local hospital where my grandson was checked over and released with a few scrapes. I was rushed to Albany Medical Center where I underwent emergency surgery on my leg. After setting the broken bones, and two and a half hours on the operating table, I was brought back to my hospital room in pain, but happy to be alive. My leg now has 4 titanium screws, 25 stitches and a long titanium rod running inside the full length of my right Tibia. I have weeks ahead of me with my leg elevate, and more weeks of physical therapy for me to return to full strength. And the bike? Well it has relatively minor damage that can be repaired, but I have no collision insurance so it’s all on me.

The obvious question I have been asked by numerous people who visited me since the accident is: “So are you ready to give up the motorcycle?” My answer has been pretty much the same each time,”Why? Did you stop driving when you wrecked your car? Did you give up fishing when you hooked yourself? Did you give up walking when you fell down?” Now let me clarify that I will drive with more care. I will stay back even further from other vehicles. I will stay even more alert to what is ahead. Yes! But, will I stop riding my motorcycle and no longer enjoy that sweet pleasure of life? The answer will always be an emphatic, No! Not until the Lord says it’s time to give it up. When I hear that from Him, it’s over!

A life worth living is the one you can enjoy without fear controlling your decisions. It is filled with risk, and blessed with reward. It is punctuated by mistakes and elevated by victories. It may be colored by pain at times, but it is also made real with unbounded joy. Most of all, it comes alive in moments of glory, or seasons of sorrow that happen as we live it to the fullest. Some may opt to live a safe, protected, bubble-wrapped life, but I submit to you that such a life is not worth living. It is simply existing in the safety net where risk is eliminated and so is passion. When victories are minimal, and the adventure of living has been sanitized away so that routine runs the show, and there are no unwanted surprises, this is no life at all. It is simply existing in a protected safety zone of comfort until you die.

How do you categorize your life? Is it neatly packaged, and clearly ordered so that you feel secure and safe, and the adventure is all but eliminated? Is it an air-conditioned, climate controlled, bug free, green zone of organized boredom? Life is short, and you must make the most of the time you have. Perhaps it is time to strap on a helmet, feel the wind in your face and see what it’s like to live a little on the edge. Break out for your deadly routines and try something different, even a bit dangerous. You can begin to live the adventure you always wanted. It only takes one decision, one step in a new direction.

You don’t have to climb Mount Everest, jump out of an air plane, trek to the South Pole or walk the Great Wall of China. Others can do such extreme things. No, you only have to break out of the mold, the comfort you have surrounded yourself with, and try something different, simple and new. It could be eating at a very different kind of restaurant, reading a new book or learning to dance. Perhaps it is vacationing in a new spot you saw on a map, or learing to drive a motorcycle or paddle a kayak. The possibilities are endless. Once you get a breakthrough, nothing will ever be the same. The question you must ask yourself is this; “Is my life the unmarked trail of adventure I want it to be, or is it the predictable, sign covered road I will safely walk, till I die?”

What is a life worth living? That, my friends, is the million dollar question we each must answer for ourselves. Mine will be very different from yours, but such a life will leave you breathless with anticipation for what might come next. It will stir your imagination, require fresh courage and fill you with the joy of discovering something you never experienced before. It will have moments of danger and risk, but it will bring the satisfaction of doing something others look at and wish they had done. A life worth living really is there for the taking. It’s just one decision away, and you can have it today. The question is, do you want it, and will you take the first step to get it? If not, take a moment to discover what’s holding you back and then move beyond it. Your life, the one you always wanted is out there waiting for you.. now go get it!