Rivers of Thought
Life, Leadership, Business & Technology
Time. Time has been on my mind recently. If we, as humans, have one thing in common, it is time. Time is precious. Time is limited. Our time is unknown. With all our ingenuity, we have yet to be able to create time. But what if I told you, you could create time? The answer has been with us for two thousand years.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Steve Johns on the podcast I host. Our conversation centered around his soon-to-be-published book, Fearless – Leadership Lessons at the Crossroads. In the book, Steve quotes Marcus Aurelius. Aurelius Antoninus was the Roman emperor from 161 to 180 AD. He was also a Stoic philosopher.
If you seek tranquillity, do less.
Or (more accurately) do what’s essential—what the logos of a social being requires,
and in the requisite way.
Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better.
Because most of what we say and do is not essential.
If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquillity.*
The Secret to Creating Time
“You will have more time.” The words haunted me. The secret to creating more time is to do less…better. Being in business for the last 40 years, productivity experts have been saying the same thing. Heck, I even preached to my teams to “slow down to do more.” For some reason, reading the words of an ancient brought it to front and center in my mind, heart, and soul.
Later, as I listened to the podcast recording, I realized I had the answer…the answer to the question, “why did you move from Whitetail Meadow?” It is a question we have been asked a hundred times in the last three months. “You loved your property; I thought you would never leave. Why did you move?”
I had been struggling with my “why” for almost a year. Why did I want to move? What made us think it was time to move?
Why did we move?
When we first moved to Whitetail Meadow, I took to each task and project with energy and passion. I could easily spend eight or nine hours on Saturday and Sunday freeing a logjam in the creek, removing invasive shrubs, cutting trails through the property, and helping Carmen in the garden. Did I get tired? Of course! Did I get sore? Certainly! As the years passed, the eight or nine hours turned four or five, then three or four. The soreness would last for days instead of overnight. But was that my why?
Was it the walnuts?
Was it the 10’s of thousands of black walnuts we picked up each year between August and October? Picking those up out of the yard so that one could walk through the yard without breaking an ankle certainly was a pain in the ass…actually, a pain in the back, arms, wrists…we would both cuss and moan each year, all the while, praying for a “light season.” We certainly had the resources to do something about it. Harvesting 28 sixty-foot black walnut trees was something we couldn’t bring ourselves to do.
Was it the ignorate litterers?
Was it the constant need to walk the property to pick up the trash that idiots threw out of their cars? Can you believe in this day and age, people still litter? My goal for twelve years was to see someone throw their trash into my yard and follow them home to “return” the trash. Beer cans, whiskey bottles, cigarette cartons, and bags and bags of fast food containers were tossed with no thought to the people who lived there (us), the people that had to pick it up (again, us), or the people who were breaking their backs to create a beautiful sanctuary (yes, us). Ok, I may be just a little bitter about this one!
Was it the bad drivers?
Was it the steady parade of bad drivers who could not keep their cars on the road and out of our yard for one reason or another? Driver after driver would fail to navigate the steep hill coming down 75th Street. They would either end up taking out the guardrail and destroying the wildflower meadow behind it, or they would miss the guardrail and end up in the front yard of our rental home, taking out trees and creating deep ruts in the lawn, or they would make it past the rental and still not have control of their car and do a similar “lawn-job” in our yard. The dump truck driver who missed the guardrail but turned over on the steep incline and spilled 10 tons of gravel into the meadow, not to mention the diesel fuel, really created a mess!
They were just weeds, anyway!
My “favorite” was the Lawrence North High School student who lost control on the ice and ended up in the meadow. When his grandfather showed up to help, he got his car stuck because he pulled over on top of the culvert that runs under the road…and then blamed us. The kid then asked the cop if he could “drive his car out instead of calling a tow truck because it was just a bunch of weeds anyway.”
No! Our “why” was none of those things. Like many life lessons, the answer is something we already knew. We just need a teacher to remind us. Time is precious. We are creating time by focusing on what is important and essential…our family, our friends, each other, and ourselves. THAT is why we left our beautiful Whitetail Meadow…to create time!
I will leave you another quote from our friend Marcus Aurelius:
Keep in mind how fast things pass by and are gone—
those that are now, and those to come.
Existence flows past us like a river:
the “what” is in constant flux, the “why” has a thousand variations.
Nothing is stable, not even what’s right here.
The infinity of past and future gapes before us—
a chasm whose depths we cannot see.*
*Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations (Modern Library)
Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
With apologies to Sir Elton John and his masterpiece Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, we are saying “goodbye Whitetail Meadow.” Unlike the singer, we are not leaving the penthouses and city life to return to the farm; we are leaving the “farm” for a simpler, less strenuous, less time-consuming life in a subdivision!
Whitetail Meadow was the name we gave to our little slice of heaven on the northeast side of Indianapolis. This hidden gem along Sargent Road is a bucolic piece of countryside in the city. Originally four acres, we expanded to ten by purchasing the house and property next door. Mud Creek flows through the yard and the partially wooded acres of wildflower meadows. Heaven.
Cookouts, campouts, and celebrations made many memories in the 12 years we called Whitetail Meadow home. As we were preparing our home for sale, Carmen and I wanted to leave a letter for anyone touring the house to read. Before I share some more personal memories, here is an excerpt from that letter:
- On our first day at Whitetail Meadow, we watched a mother pileated woodpecker teach her young son how to peck for insects. That was our introduction to the lessons in nature we would learn!
- Sitting on the deck enjoying a beverage while the deer graze in the yard. Watching the seasons pass through the does, growing heavy with their soon-to-be newborn fawns. The spotted fawns, barely able to walk, grow into adolescents. The males grow their antlers covered with velvet fuzz, sparring with each other, later shed the fuzz, and finally, the antlers themselves.
- Watching the abundant wildlife, including more bird species than we can count, woodpeckers, eagles, hawks, and more. Mink playing in the creek and fox on the hunt. Mallards and wood ducks paddle the creek while the blue herons fish for dinner. At night, the owls’ hoots can be heard.
- We have celebrated countless holidays, birthdays, and gatherings of family and friends. In 2022 we even hosted a wedding in the backyard, complete with a 40-foot tent and dinner for 50!
- The fall is the perfect time for mini-hayrides through the meadow, followed by picking pumpkins from grandma’s garden and decorating them with stickers, markers, and carvings for Halloween.
- Summertime brings outdoor movie nights, campfires (mmmm, s’mores), and backyard campouts. It is also the perfect time for creek stomping – wading, swimming, throwing and skipping rocks, exploring, and finding treasures. When not stomping in the creek, fishing is another way to enjoy being outdoors!
- Winter brings a quiet stillness to the valley as the snow carpets the meadow and ice forms in the creek. Tracks in the snow reveal the presence of wildlife hunting for a snack. The hill at the north end is just big enough for grandpa-powered sledding for the grandkids.
- In the spring, Whitetail Meadow emerges from its slumber, and the cycle begins again! Flowers bloom, the foliage leaves out, and the migrating animals return.
- Hiking the trails every season reveals something new as the meadow and the forest grow and change. Every day, every moment is different if you take the time to look and listen.
In my previous post, I spoke of hallowed ground, not hallowed by consecration, but hallowed by the moments of life that happen. The memories of life. Memories with our sons Jeremy and Brad.
Jeremy and Brad
Jeremy, so much life lived in the years Carmen and I spent at Whitetail Meadow. Happy days, painful days. For a year or so, he was our neighbor at Whitetail Meadow, living in the second house we bought on Sargent Road. I always love to see him come around the corner of the house, usually moments after Braxton appears. His knowledge of rocks, soil, and water gained from his career in materials testing came in handy on a variety of projects on the property. The most memorable project for me is the weeks we spent building the paver patio. My grill sat on that patio for years, and I would think of Jeremy and I toiling over leveling the ground, compacting the gravel and the sand, and laying the pavers, every time I grilled.
Brad, so much life lived in the years Carmen and I spent at Whitetail Meadow. Happy days, painful days. (Yes, I know I repeated myself 🙂 ). Memories of Brad playing catch, hitting a Wiffle ball, and smashing a drive with Jordan’s plastic golf clubs. Images of Brad following the kids around during Easter Egg hunts or enthusiastically enjoying the fall hayrides easily come to mind. Carmen and I felt blessed to be able to welcome Brad and his sons to live with us for a year during one of life’s more painful times. While these empty nesters were indeed accustomed to our routine, being able to sit down to an evening meal with them and talk about their days was something we will always remember.
Hallowed ground…while at Whitetail Meadow, we welcomed the next generation of Ton, Braxton, Jordan, and Jasper:
Braxton, Jordan, and Jasper
Braxton, our first grandchild…so many memories. We loved to play “Mario and Bowser” on the playset in the backyard. Somehow Mario (aka Grandpa) could never defeat Bowser! Braxton’s and Grandpa’s great adventure – the day I took off work to babysit him, and we explored the 10 acres together! The highlight has to be just this past summer. Braxton is autistic, and one of the ways this manifests in him is a strong reaction to getting his head wet; showers and baths were a challenge. This summer, after taking a few swimming lessons, Braxton, Grandma, and I spent THREE hours in the creek. Braxton dove for rocks and swam between our legs, and spent the whole time UNDER water!
Jordan, Jordan grew up at Whitetail Meadow. Grandma provided his primary care for the first several years of his life. Later she provided after-school care for him. They were (and are) inseparable. Jordan loved to play dinosaurs in the meadow and the woods. He would be a velociraptor, or a T-rex, or whatever his favorite creature was at the moment. Grandpa would be his prey, captor, or fellow dinosaur. Jordan also loved to help Grandpa feed the deer with his little bucket of cracked corn. The scenes that will stand out for me are Jordan and Grandma raising Monarch butterflies, discovering the caterpillars, moving them to their habitat, watching them make their chrysalis, emerging as a butterfly, and finally coaxing them out of the habitat on to the garden flowers.
Jasper, now two and a half, knows the Meadow as “side,” as in “boots…go side”…almost his first words. He loves playing outside, whether following big brother Jordan around, showing no fear climbing the playset, sliding down the big slide, or exploring the creek. Jasper loves to chase the birds and squirrels, never quite able to catch them. By far, his favorite activity is throwing “wa nets”, “tix”, and “rcks” in the “wada” (for those unable to speak two-year-old, that is throwing walnuts, sticks, and rocks in the water). He was always quite proud when one actually landed in the water, proclaiming, “I did it.”
All three of them love the creek. Creek stomping! Throwing rocks, wading (and now swimming), exploring, and visiting the “waterfall.”
Hallowed ground…all of these memories make Whitetail Meadow hallowed ground, but it was August of 2022 when our dear friends Dennis and LeeAnne declared it as such:
Katrina, Ariana, Henry and Avery
Katrina, Ariana, Henry, and Avery joined our family, quite literally, at Whitetail Meadow. Brad and Katrina were married in a beautiful ceremony in the backyard at Whitetail Meadow. The day was perfect. A wonderful blending of two families, attended by family and friends. Ariana and Avery were beautiful angels scattering flower petals down the aisle. Jordan, Henry, and Jasper were handsome ringbearers. And we will always remember Brad’s face when his gorgeous bride-to-be, Katrina, walked across the deck, down the stairs, and across the yard toward him…the moment they looked into each other’s eyes and expressed their vows…and, of course, the pronouncement of husband and wife!
Carmen, my words fall short. The memories we built over the time we spent there…together…are beautiful and endless. Working side by side in the garden, entertaining friends, the countless family celebrations from Thanksgiving during our initial renovations (no drywall…only studs, rafters, and subfloor), to Easters, Mother’s Days, Father’s Days, birthdays…and Christmases, wonderful, magical Christmases! Of all that, what I will remember most, is just being with you. Sitting on the deck on a warm summer evening, watching the deer play reindeer games, the eagles fly overhead, or the groundhog peeking around the corner. Sitting by the fire on a cold winter night, talking about our day, making plans for the future, laughing together, crying together, loving every minute.
I look forward to building more memories in this next chapter in our lives. So yes, we are saying “Goodbye Whitetail Meadow,” but the song is not over; there are more lyrics to write, more melodies to pen, and more harmonies to blend.
Hallowed Ground…I could not shake that thought from my mind. Hallowed Ground. We were standing on hallowed ground. The thought brought back memories of my childhood growing up in the church…the old gospel hymn “Standing on Holy Ground,”…the many scriptures that spoke of removing your sandals to stand on holy ground…that day, we indeed were standing on hallowed ground…sacred…revered…not because it had been consecrated and declared as such, but because of what happened there…between strangers from different lives and different worlds.
I found myself once again heading to the Southside of Chicago. This time to attend the dedication of an Illinois State Historical Marker at the site at once was my great-great grandparent’s farm. As I neared the city, I decided to visit the Jan and Aagje Ton Memorial Garden in South Holland. I pulled into the parking lot on the church’s grounds, realizing this would be my first time visiting the garden alone.
After walking through the garden and looking at each flower and plant, knowing they had been purposely planted by my new friend Nadine Harris-Clark, her sister, and other volunteers, I sat quietly on the bench. Hallowed ground. It was a beautiful early autumn day. Not a cloud in the sky. A gentle and somewhat chilly breeze rustled the leaves of the trees above me. As my eyes took in the memorial, a sound came to my ears from off in the distance…the sound of a train whistle…I strained to listen. I could almost hear the clap-clap-clap of the steel wheels passing along the tracks…hallowed ground.
Soon the church bells tolling at noon broke me out of my trance. As the 12th toll echoed across the grounds, I headed to my car. It was time to drive the two miles to Chicago’s Finest Marina on the grounds of what was the Ton Farm over 100 years ago.
The Dedication – Ton Farm
I found myself feeling somewhat anxious, somewhat curious, and somewhat nervous. When we had last visited the farm site, the gates had been locked, and we could not explore the area along the river. Today would be different. Today the gates would be open.
After saying hello to Nadine, Tom, Larry, and Robin, I wandered off. I wanted to take it all in before the dedication ceremony. I wanted to walk the grounds alone. I wanted to stand along the river. I have always loved rivers. Something about watching the water change and dance in the light as it moves past me, never to be the same again. I wondered how many times Jan and Aagje stood here and watched the river. How often did my great-grandpa George fish in the river or play in its waters with his siblings? I could hear the peals of laughter and delight as George splashed one of his sisters in the cool waters.
As I walked through the grass to where the house would have been located, the emotions came alive. It was here freedom seekers would come, seeking safety, protection, food, warmth, and transportation for the next leg of their long journey. It was here Jan and Aagje would risk fines, jail time, or worse.
I could feel it. Hallowed Ground. Sacred ground. Revered ground.
Fear was the first thing I felt. The freedom seekers had been traveling for days or weeks. Every. Single. Moment. In fear of discovery and being returned to the very life of slavery they were trying to escape. Frightened. Traveling at night, hiding in the shadows. While they had been told this was a safe haven to rest, was it? Who were these white people anyway? They could turn them in for a handsome reward, probably more than they made on this small farm in a month or many months.
Fear. Jan and Aagje. Nervous to be discovered. Worried law enforcement from Chicago would discover their part in this flight for freedom. Anxious as they hid their precious cargo in their wagons and headed toward Indiana. Risk. Would they be deported back to Holland? Fear. Different, but just as palpable.
Fear gave way to trust. As the Tons bustled into their now familiar routine of hiding the freedom seekers in their barn, preparing food, providing water, and unfolding blankets. Hushed tones of conversation between them. From whence had they come? Missouri? Mississippi? Kentucky? Questions about the road ahead. Stories of the dunes they would cross on their way around the great lake. Trust that these kind folks would give them passage. Trust in a safe place to lay their heads and rest, if only for a few hours.
Fear gave way to trust. This group of frightened travelers was seeking freedom. The quiet knock on the door was not the authorities or someone trying to rob or harm them. As their story unfolded, fear eroded, and trust was built. Always wary and cautious but confident in their actions.
Hope. As they climbed into the wagon and hid beneath the hay. Hope – freedom lay ahead. Hope – a few more days of travel. A new life. They would make it safely. They could send for others. Hope. Building a life. Free. They would remember the past and in remembering, give thanks for the freedom that would now be theirs. A future free from the oppression of slavery.
Jan and Aagje felt hope. Hope for the future and the lives they were building in this country. Scarcely a decade has passed since they left the only life they had ever known in 1849. Jan a young man of 23, Aagje a girl of only 14. Married in 1853 and building a life together on a small farm. Their growing family. Hope for the future. Hope for a life free to practice their religion and worship their god, free from persecution.
Hallowed ground, not by consecration but by the deeds performed in this space.
Do this in remembrance of them
The unveiling ceremony dedicated this land. Dignitaries spoke. Beautiful songs were raised. On behalf of Jan and Aagje, I was honored to be a part of it. I never knew them, but my heart tells me they would have been “embarrassed for all the fuss.” They were just doing what they knew to be right in their hearts for other men, women, and children traveling this life.
The marker will serve as a reminder of what happened there. To those who visit, I encourage you to walk the grounds with a sense of remembrance. Feel the emotions. Connect with the people who made this ground hallowed…those seeking freedom…and those lending a helping hand toward that freedom.
Hallowed ground, indeed!
In researching the concept of hallowed ground for this post, I came across Standing on Hallowed Ground: Practicing the Morality of Remembrance by Dr. Maulana Karenga. His words describe hallowed grounds in a way that moved me. Please click through and read it!
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