Sunny days or cloudy, high tide or low, the ever-changing elements of a walk on an oceanfront beach stir my senses and imagination. I try to keep a sharp eye out for the unusual. When I spotted these etchings in the sand, I saw a cross-section of roots reaching deep into fertile soil far below the floor of a magnificent forest.
In reality, these markings are nothing more than the tracings of pebbles and shells first being washed upon the shore and then just as quickly drawn back into the sea by its never-ending motion. They still looked like tree roots to me.
Children see the world so much differently than adults. That can be a positive thing.
In my mind, there is no better place to experience that than Lakeside, Ohio. It’s one reason my wife and I return for our annual vacation respite year after year.
The inquisitive nature and creative imagination of children were on display the minute we arrived at this Chautauqua on Lake Erie. A recent wild rain and windstorm had taken down some trees where we stay. Truncated remnants of one of the smaller trees still looked freshly cut.
As my wife and I pulled our suitcases into our cozy efficiency apartment, a clutch of preschoolers played around those woody remains. One of the kids, not four years old, said, “Look, a smiley face!”
The child was right. Smack in the middle of the light wood rings darker imperfections perfectly mirrored the ubiquitous smiling icon. Anyone other than a child would have walked right by the gnarly stub without noticing the fascinating find.
It took a child. Spontaneous or planned, many inspirational opportunities await all ages at Lakeside. It’s the jewel in the crown that swells the summer resort town to 6,000 from the 300 year-round residents.
Inquisitive by nature, youngsters from toddlers to teens tend to view the world from an entirely different perspective than do the older generations of their parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Given all of their learnedness and life experience, adults can too easily dismiss the findings and discoveries of their progeny.
At Lakeside, a stiff lake breeze blows away that theory. Imagination and Lakeside are inseparable.
During the summer months, Lakeside becomes a gated community. It’s as if when the gates close, minds open. In part, that’s by design.
Lakeside’s four pillars of purpose highlight religion, education, recreation, and arts and entertainment. Imagination is the header that secures those fundamental principles together.
The Lakeside staff and volunteers go all out to encourage participants of every generation to create, recreate, reflect and uplift. Activities befitting the quartet of categories run from sunrise to beyond sunset.
People choose how to engage their imagination. The options are limitless at Lakeside.
A young, energetic girl wearing a florescent yellow fairy skirt barked out orders to her small troop of followers as she cycled ahead. Their animated play and laughter took them past quaint cottages. In their world, they may have been exploring the Grand Canyon.
The lakeshore drew others to sunbathe, walk, read and dream as sailboats big and small tacked their courses. A roaring cigarette boat occasionally disturbed the peace. At the shuffleboard courts, still others tested their strategy skills and dreamed of winning the tournament championship.
Schools of families camped on the dock plied for whatever nibbled. Fish or no fish, their time together exceeded any catch imaginable.
Youth groups sang, studied and tested each other’s faith with blind trust games. It didn’t take much imagination to see that letting go and learning to lead truly went hand-in-hand.
Artists applied paint to brush to canvas to the delight of admirers. They dabbed their creativity into familiar scenes with stunning results.
Imagine yourself lying in a hammock strung between a pair of giant shade trees as Baltimore Orioles warble and Common Nighthawks dart overhead. That is the reality at Lakeside.
Seeing a smiley face in the middle of a stump perfectly sums up the Lakeside life. Imagination thrives there. It’s why we keep going back.
When I was a youngster growing up in a suburb of a blue-collar steel town in northeast Ohio in the 1950s and 60s, I loved summer nights.
Let me be clear that the foremost reason for my affection for summer was that school was out. But it was so much more than that, and still is.
Sure, summer days filled with warm temperatures, fluffy white clouds sailing by and gaggles of my peers running loose made for riotous times. We’d play ball, ride bikes, and explore for hours on end along the little creek that snaked through a woods down over the hill from our brick bungalow.
However, we knew when to come home for lunch and supper, or we wouldn’t eat. It was that simple.
It was a crazy, wonderful era to grow up. Times were changing. Right after supper, we watched the world unfold before us on the nightly news on black and white television. I had trouble reconciling what I saw then with what I had seen just before dinner on the Mickey Mouse Club.
That might have something to do with why I enjoyed and enjoy summer nights so much. Things got quieter after 10 p.m. or so. The noises of life subsided. I escaped into the refreshing darkness, unafraid, in awe of creation, and in search of anything that moved in the sparkling sky.
Since we were on summer vacation from school, my siblings and I were permitted to stay up later. I loved the evening’s coolness, a respite from the daytime heat and humidity. The nighttime air was our air conditioning.
I took full advantage of those cooler opportunities. I loved to view the night sky. Streetlights were scarce in our neighborhood then, allowing us actually to see the constellations and the countless stars.
My folks must have noticed that interest, too. I got a telescope, and that allowed me to examine the heavenly hosts up close. It was the beginning of the space age, and once I even was able to follow Sputnik, the first-ever man-made satellite launched by the Soviet Union.
Satellites were still so novel that newspapers published the time and flight path of their orbits. When I saw Sputnik, I couldn’t believe its simplicity, a round ball with four protruding antennae.
I liked simpler, natural things, too, like fireflies, the flash of heat lightning in distant storms, an owl hooting. Most of all, I embraced the solitude that summer nights afforded.
Here I am decades later, a grandfather instead of a grandson. I still love the quietness of early summer nights, before the crickets and katydids begin their concerts.
Living here in the country, I lie awake at night listening to distant sounds far from our home, dogs barking, horses whinnying, and jetliners cruising high overhead. It’s that calm. If I’m fortunate, a Whippoorwill will wake me from my daze, or a pair of coyotes will howl from the hilltop behind our home.
An American Robin will startle me awake long before dawn, perhaps herself startled from her nest. Was it a cat, a flying squirrel, an owl, or did one of her babies grow restless and try an early morning fledgling flight?
I still like the nights before the crickets start choir practice. I still prefer summer’s air conditioning to artificial. I am most appreciative that lightning bugs don’t crackle when they blink.
A painting hangs on a wall in my home office where I spend much of my workday. The artistry isn’t one of my mother’s rich landscape watercolors.
The painting is simple in content, perhaps even a bit juvenile in style. That’s why I like it so much. I purchased the watercolor from a former student.
The sixth-grade artist took a common setting and made it exquisite. She had captured perfectly the daily scene in her classroom. A row of colorful books lined the soldier brick windowsill. The black tattered blinds, cords hanging limp, covered the upper third of the old steel framed windows.
I wanted the painting as a memento. I also wanted to encourage her to keep painting. That was a long time ago, and I don’t know if the girl, now a young woman, still paints or not. I hope she does. She had a creative eye.
My middle grandchild does, too. His older brother by two years, and his 2-year old sister also have their own individual flashes of creativity. But Davis is different for sure. He is left-handed after all.
For a 5-year old, he seems to see patterns that others, myself included, look right through or ignore altogether. Davis may have inherited some of his great-grandmother’s artistic ability.
My wife and I visited recently with our daughter and her family in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley. During our stay, Davis’ creativeness burst forth on more than one occasion.
He showed me his rock collection, which is housed on the porch of an unused entrance to their home. Davis uses several characteristics to choose his rocks. Size, color, texture, shape, and weight are all his geologic requisites.
I was honored when he asked me to identify a rock he chose to take to preschool to share with the other students. I told him it was granite, and Nana chimed in that countertops are made of granite. This took us to the Internet for pictures of the coarse-grained igneous rock. Davis was fascinated with all the different types and colors.
While playing football with him outside, I pointed out a big puffy cloud floating overhead. Davis informed me that it was a dragon. On second glance, I don’t know how I missed that obvious observation.
The sure sign that we may have a budding Picasso in the family was Davis’ intensity while drawing. He stared at the Wii characters on the television screen as his big brother played a game. Davis turned to his drawing paper over and over again, dedicated to replicate what he saw. He didn’t quit until he was satisfied with what he had sketched.
His siblings, Evan and Maren, draw, too. Evan is a meticulous stay-between-the-lines kind of guy, while little Maren is just honing her abstract expressionism. She sent a sample of her early work back to Ohio with us.
At the park, Davis discovered a shark designed cleverly onto a section of a gigantic wooden play set. Like the dragon, I didn’t see it until Davis pointed it out. The sharp teeth, the menacing eye, the dorsal fins and the fanned tail were all right there. Creative kid that he is, Davis sat down in the pea gravel and began to outline a replica with his index finger.
I marvel at children who can see the extraordinary in the ordinary. I admire it all the more when the children happen to be youngsters I know well, like my grandchildren.