Concept Art: Don't Pay The Ferryman

Don’t Pay The Ferryman

In the last article I used this image of me laying back taking a break from rowing. It was taken by my wonderful wife with her point and click. I liked it so much I wanted to play with it, and see where the muse took me. After a few enjoyable hours of play, I created this: Don’t Pay The Ferryman.

My apologies to Chris De Burgh for borrowing his title. His excellent song of the same name started running through my head as the work evolved into this final piece. It grew through several different ideas before I locked on this one. I’m going to work on variations, but this one works best for me so far. The image here gives a strong visual impact that tells a powerful story. This story.

The Ferryman

The Styx is the mythical River Of The Dead. To reach the afterlife, it must be crossed.

The Styx can only be crossed by ferry. There are no bridges. The dead carry no possessions. They have no boats. Swimmers attempting to cheat their way into the afterlife become disoriented and lost in the perpetual mists along the river, until exhaustion overtakes them and they sink down into the murky depths of damnation. Fearful souls too afraid to board the ferry spend eternity in the ghostly limbo between life and death. They can be seen along the shore, until they are lost in mist as the ferry pulls away leaving them behind forever.

The ferryman, whose name is Charon, guides the dead to their final home, rowing forever backward and forward between the shores of life and death. His ferry is the only safe path to the afterlife. He has to be paid for his troubles. Once you have paid his fee, you may board. Your fate is sealed. So unless you are weary of this world and ready for that final journey… don’t pay him.

This myth has percolated in many forms and many cultures throughout history. It’s one reason the dead would have pennies placed on their eyes: To ensure they could afford safe passage.

Time and Tide

Two things which wait for no man are time and tide. Two more are death and taxes. The only one we are not sure applies here is taxes. There’s an interesting stream of thought…

I have never been one to give up easily. I will fight to the last, and if there is a way around a problem I will find it. One day, though, and being purely practical, my life will be over and I will reluctantly have to pay Charon. Probably. But not until I’ve explored every option. Which is where we come in.

So here I am, dead. Rowing a boat I somehow managed to contrive or conjure, exhausted from navigating the Styx and its mind-bending mists that ensnare and confuse and push the faint of heart back to the shore where they must pay the ferryman for passage. I’m sleeping the sleep of the terminally tired, not yet aware that my stubborn perseverance actually paid off: My little boat found it’s way to safe harbour.

I drifted into the channel, and am being carried by gentle waves to the futuristic landing stage of my next adventure (this is my afterlife, guys). As one closes, another door opens. Onward. Always onward.

Styx

The band Styx have absolutely no connection to this. They simply share the name of the mythical river. As I worked on this, it morphed many times. At one point I decided it would make a great concept album cover, so I went with it even though it’s not (yet) square. That’s another variant for another day.

The album is ‘Don’t Pay The Ferryman’. And it’s by a band called Styx Not. Not Styx.

Homage to a great band that I discovered through my wonderful wife and have grown to love, the members of which band will hopefully not try to sue me for copyright infringement. But hey, guys, if you want to use this concept as your next album cover, let’s talk. Just throwing it out there. Worth a shot. Hey, gimme a break. I may one day have a ferryman to pay. Or not.

Don't Pay The Ferryman concept art
Click image to view at full size
The Road Less Travelled.

Onward

Life is a river that flows in one direction. Onward. As a youth you enjoy the speed and excitement as the current pushes you from one experience to the next. Learning to read. Write. Speak. It’s exhilarating.

As you get older, the impulse is to try to hold back those river horses. Consolidate what you’ve learned. You’ve spent years learning everything you think you will need to know in this life, then everything changes. And that can really throw you. You have to start again. Again.

But life, the simple definition of which no two sciences or theologies fully agree on, doesn’t care about your last ten years. Or that your career just became surplus to requirements. Or even that you were replaced by a software update. It just flows onward. This thing we call life, simply is.

If you try to hold back the river you are likely to drown. Or at the very least, look quite silly. The better thing to do, therefore, is go with the flow. See where it takes you. Onward.

In life, metaphorically and otherwise, we come up against dead ends. Some, you just cannot overcome. Others, you can. Since I was a child I have not tried to fly by jumping from a roof and waving my arms. I may be wrong but I still believe that would end badly.

I have, however, continued to learn new skills every year, and will for as long as I can. I have changed horses in mid-stream more times than most. Primarily, because I enjoy it. Learning new skills keeps me fresh, and helps me move into the future to face new challenges. Onward.

From grease monkey to sales, purchasing, logistics, customer service, training, photography, and a lot of in-between along the way, I discovered one simple truth many years ago. Learning one way to do things does not mean it will always be the only way; just ask a film photographer. So I’m adaptable. Open to change. To my mind, it’s the only logical move we have.

Case In Point

Case in point: I like to get out and explore. Growing in to a career producing print materials, web, and video designs, I adopted a camera as a tool of the job. Beyond that, I use it for event and landscape photography – some of which you can see at http://photos.gystservices.com.

While doing all this, I fell in love with the camera as a tool for relaxation and fun. I spend much of my down time driving around taking photos. My camera is my constant companion, providing solace and peace while it records my adventures. I drive for hours. Just drive. This is my explanation of how and why I found myself on a No Exit road, face to face with this particular sign.

When I saw it, I smiled. Because the limits had been set. The challenge was before me.
One look into the wilderness and I knew I could go further. So I did.

I took my fate into my own hands and drove on. Taking this cautionary sign at it’s word I proceeded carefully, navigating around deep ruts, potentially deeper standing water, fallen trees and the encroachment of nature on all sides. And, a half mile or so later, came out the other side.

No worries. This was a calculated risk. As a commercial driver for years I know my own limits and those of any vehicle I drive. I felt comfortable knowing I could back out, navigating hazards in reverse. I knew the clearance under my car. I’d checked Google Maps satellite view for obvious dangers, and knew exactly where I would emerge. I had cell signal to call for a truck and knew which way to walk to the nearest road if I had to. Risk management 101: Know your exits. This is perhaps not as romantic as the thought of diving headfirst into the wilderness, but hey. I’m adventurous, not stupid. I took stock of the situation. Then took a leap of faith.

My reward was seeing things not visible from the well-traveled road. Three does, a stag, squirrels and birds and strange buzzing insects beyond number. An abandoned barn. Wild chickens. Wild turkeys. Rabbits.

All because I was a little adventurous, and faced a new minor challenge. Despite what this sign said, the road did not end here. The real road, just like the the river of life, flows onward. And I’m still driving it. Or going with the flow. I have to stop mixing metaphors. Comedic juxtaposition and humorous silliness aside…

I can recommend getting out of your own comfort zone sometimes. When the asphalt ends, or the river of life takes an unexpected turn, try to at least keep your head above water and go with the flow. Do something new, every day. Make your own road. It’s very rewarding. It keeps you young. It’s worth it.

Writing down all these deep thoughts has taken quite a lot out of me. I need some down time now, I think. I think I shall go for a drive.

Onward.

Onward: The Road Less Travelled.

Happiness

Happiness is where you find it. Here, it’s in a quick video snippet of Nikki and I out and about enjoying the Summer. This bit of silliness was recorded during a stop at a local Conservation Area.

Just because the world seems to be coming to an end is no reason to let life get us down.

You take your happiness with you. Wherever you go, there it is. Or isn’t. Happiness can be shy and may not want to come out and play. Happiness is like a child. Petulant. Stubborn. Unreasonable. Beautiful.

Happiness needs nurturing. Take it to the park for a picnic every so often. Buy it an ice cream.

There is joy and happiness aplenty to be found in this silly old world. Sometimes, you just have to coax it out from the rock it’s hiding under and bring it into the daylight kicking and screaming.

Mixed metaphors aside, things can always get worse. Conversely, they can always get better. Remember that. You can’t control what life throws at you, but you can control your response.

Be happy, in spite of all the reasons not to. In some cases, not all, it’s a choice. Not always easy, I know.

Whatever shape your own happiness may take, start a conversation with it. Learn what it likes. Buy it an ice cream. Make the effort. We found ours. Seek. And you, too, shall find. So go. Off with you.

9/11 memorial, New Jersey, New York

A Little Perspective

On July 4, this photo of my wife Nikki at the 9/11 memorial in New York is a powerful reminder of how messed up this world can be. War, genocide, human rights abuse, famine… the list is long.

We live in Port Colborne, in the sleepy Niagara region of Ontario, Canada. The biggest scandal in our little corner of the world right now is that due to COVID-19, a by-law exemption allows servers to cross the street carrying cold beers to patrons on temporary outdoor patios. People on both sides of this constitutional crisis are up in arms over this issue. We clearly need more fiber in our diet.

However bad you may think things are right now in your own corner of Canada, remember that you didn’t get planes crashed into you, hit by a hurricane, flooded, killed for being different, or put under curfew. And that’s just in the shining metropolis of New York, New York.

My perspective is this: If the biggest thing on your radar lately is someone crossing the street with a beer for you, you live in a pretty great place. Smile.

We got this. Be thankful. And be happy. Peace.

9/11 memorial, New Jersey, New York

Chase Your Dreams

Life is full of surprises. Some good. Some, not so much. Rolling with the ups and downs only gets you so far. If you really want something, you have to make it happen. You have to chase your dreams.

Your dream may be big: Marriage, family, a home, a career. It could be as simple as getting your driving license. Going on vacation. Passing an exam. Finishing a home improvement project. Learning to knit. Everything involves a degree or two of commitment. No surprises there. Dreams take work.

What might surprise you is how short a time you have in which to make those dreams a reality.

Case in point, so far this summer five people I know have died. Three unexpectedly, two after illness. All left life with unfulfilled dreams. Dreams they kept putting off, for various reasons, until later. Sometimes there is no later. Which begs the question, why put off your dreams?

I am within a decade of retirement. I have plans. For one, going on an epic road trip around Canada, travel blogging and taking photos to help pay for the trip. Open to discussions on sponsorship. 🙂

This trip will be open ended. It may take years to complete. There will be no rush to come home. With a camper van full of our down-sized lives, my long-suffering wife and I will head off into every sunset to see what’s over the next hill. And there’s a lot to see in Canada.

Tick Tock, Watch That Clock

This year’s events make me ponder bringing our plans forward. I’m not getting any younger. None of us are. Some won’t get any older. Whether you are sixteen or sixty six, whatever your circumstances, we all have dreams of one size or another. The one thing we should all remember is this: Tomorrow never comes. So chase your dreams today. Delay no more. Before you know it the clock has ticked on and the opportunity has gone, forever. Too old. Too young. Too busy. Don’t do that.

Start making plans. Chase your dreams. If you (nice segue, Carl) want to help me chase mine, and maybe inspire yourself or others, consider buying something from my store. This design features my wife taking in sunset at our lakeside cabin in Muskoka. A happy memory. A dream fulfilled.

Available products include T-shirts, badges, mugs, pillows, coasters, window stickers and prints.
Click the image to go to the shop and see all the products on offer. You choose.

The clock is ticking, so chase your dreams today because tomorrow never comes.

Here’s some background on this dream of ours. In my previous life in the UK I lived on the road as a sales manager for many years. I set my own route and schedule, spending four nights per week in hotels (expense accounts are awesome) schmoozing clients from one end of that sceptered isle to the other. Logistics are second nature. The road holds no fear. The stories I could tell…

I averaged 1500 km per week, which in the UK is quite a feat. This was in the days before Google maps. I kept a box of maps under the seat. After the first year I rarely opened it. I didn’t need to. Just climbed in and drove. But I was always racing the sun. Never had time to slow down. To enjoy. That’s where this is coming from.

It will be fun to take the scenic route for a change. Take time to smell the roses, go at our own speed. Onwards, into the sunset. Or a new sunrise. Either way. We aim to live our dream.

Now go. Live yours.

Peewee Collage poster

Love Survives

This weekend should have seen over a hundred bikes roaring around the Niagara region partaking in the annual Peewee memorial ride, one of many charity fundraising events run by the NBS Riders. This Summer, like most other social events, the event was cancelled due to… well, we all know why. Pretty much every event has been cancelled this year. 2020 is a complete bust, event wise.

We lost Peewee in 2013. We have lost many others since. This year we have been unable, in many cases, to mark their losses with a memorial. Some, we could not attend a celebration of life. Even their funerals.

That does not mean we forget.

For every loss there are those that mourn. Those that want to pay their respects. That remember.

What we must also remember is that this, too, shall pass. One day we will gather again. Enjoy the sun. Listen to music. Drink beer. Eat pizza. And at that time, we shall remember those we lost. And smile.

The power of community, of friendship, of family by blood or otherwise, unites us all. Regardless of distance. Or time. Or race. Religion. Politics. We will survive. Because together, we are strong. Though far apart we are only a thought away. Reach out to a friend. Make a call. Put a smile on a face. Lighten their day as well as your own. Do it today.

When the time is right our friends and families will celebrate again. And mourn and laugh and cry and dance and sing. We will remember. Above all, we will remember this.

Love survives.

Click to view gallery, and remember.

The Changing Pace Of Life

When I was a boy… things moved more slowly. From school, to work, to leisure. It was a much slower pace of life. Until recently. Life has returned to that slower pace. Which gives time to reflect.

Things took days to happen, not minutes. Fast delivery meant sending the kids to get it.

We had no Internet. Think about that. Don’t laugh, you young whippersnappers. We invented it, you’re welcome. Cell phones didn’t exist, few homes even had landlines, so once you left the house you were free to get into (and out of) as much trouble as you could without adult supervision. Think about that.

These thoughts came to mind when I passed this beautiful old barn.

I pulled over, wanting to capture an image that held the memories of youth this barn evoked in me. That reminded me of old movies and TV shows full of rural life and family values. Of my friends and I playing tag in barns just like it, screaming in and around and across the roof. Of throwing ourselves from hay lofts into improvised haystacks made from torn apart hay bales.

Barn life. Nostalgic image of my youth.
Click image to open full screen in a new window. Prints and wall art available for purchase.

Back in the day, bales were not cylindrical as they are now, but brick shaped. Kids like me were the main reason they are now round, I like to think. Because hay bales were the lego of my generation. The bales we didn’t tear apart we made into forts and tunnels and palaces. We really could throw those things around. Constructions 10 bales high with runs and windows and parapets were common. There was nothing we could not build from these versatile building blocks, much to the annoyance of the farmers.

It was all a game. We scouted somewhere, found a field full of hay, played a while, got chased away. I only remember getting shot at once, but that was just to keep us on our toes. He fired with a smile we saw, and we waved back over our shoulders as we ran. We came back later to finish the fort. Fun times.

Endless Summers

Summers were indeed endless. Leaving the house at dawn and returning at dusk gave massive exploration potential. We would routinely walk many miles in random directions, crossing rivers and highways and woods and abandoned mines, sometimes grabbing a couple apples from a tree along the way because we forgot to pack lunch. There were no fast food franchises, even if we had money. Hungry? Go home. Broken a leg? Hop home. Fell in the river? Swim home. Lost in the dark? You’re late: Run home.

Social media was kids yelling over the back fences and exchanging information in person. Learning opportunities were limited to school, and your best friend’s best guess. There was no Google. If we wanted to know something we would research it ourselves. We went to the library. Read newspapers and magazines. We collected comics and made scrap books and played chess. Well, I did.

TV was in it’s infancy. Changing channels involved walking up to the set and spinning dials, sometimes while leaning out of the window waving the fabled ‘bunny ears’. Kids were the remotes.

We walked, ran, cycled or swam everywhere. Kids were sent alone to get groceries and had to make important decisions. If anything on Mom’s shopping list wasn’t available, an alternate had to be picked that the rest of the family liked. That’s stressful when you have an older brother. Failure was not an option. Nor was going home without, as you just get sent back and that meant covering twice the distance. It’s weird to think now that a whole generation grew up deciding which cigarettes their parents would smoke.

After doing the shopping, kids would load their bikes and ride home trying not to drop anything, under pain of a walloping. It is a skill worthy of a resume entry to be able to ride with a sack of potatoes balanced on your crossbar and a grocery bag swinging from each hand. Cars? Those were for special occasions. When it came to shopping, kids were far cheaper. And far faster.

Nostalgia Has Limits

That is not to say all was peachy in this rose-coloured world of my youth.

We had Polio and Smallpox. Measles. Whooping Cough. Rickets. Scurvy. Power cuts. Bad dentistry. No nuclear imaging. No DNA or genetic medicines. No Tesla. I prefer the world in which we live today. Much longer life expectancy. Much better medicine. Nicer cars.

Yes, I would love to be a kid again. But if I had the choice I would do it all again in the here and now of today’s world. For everything wrong with this planet, it’s a pretty nice place with much I still want to see. Life has a lot more going for it these days. Kids today even have the Internet.

Did I mention, we invented that?

Gibson Lake

Rarely A Straight Line

We live in interesting times. Lurching from one disaster to the next, rarely a day between them. From COVID-19 to floods, plagues of locusts, forest fires… every day brings new challenges.

Life is a struggle. Throughout history, life in all forms has striven to overcome challenges. Life, in one way or another, finds a way. Even after an extinction level event such as the dinosaurs experienced life doesn’t stop. Life never gives in. Never surrenders. And it rarely goes in a straight line.

As a boy growing up in the North of England, I could never have predicted the sequence of events that would lead me to a life in Canada. Never in my wildest childhood dreams did I think, “My future second wife will be born today, oh, let’s say around 3,500 miles in… (waves an arm vaguely) that direction.”

Everyone plans their life to some degree: School, career, family. Along the way, curve balls hit us. Illness. Unemployment. Pregnancy. Many things force us to redirect. I, for example, wanted to join the Air Force. Due to one of the above unplanned events this did not happen. I never got to work with or fly planes. I raised children, took cash in hand jobs, and worked my way up, via many circuitous routes with many more diversions along the way, to a different life. Because as life happened, my plans changed to meet it. I evolved. Plans? Ha. Overrated. Hold on and enjoy the ride.

COVID-19 is the latest of many game-changing disasters that will affect us all, now and into the future. We cannot predict where this will take us. The situation will evolve, and we will move to meet it.

I have no doubt there will be permanent changes to societies around the world. Right now, we are all having to redirect ourselves and find new ways forward. Nobody is unaffected. Daily living is unrecognizable. Supply chains are stretched to breaking, the global economy is tanking as countries fight to finance the mitigation of this virus, and healthcare services are overwhelmed as they try to deal with what is, to me, a no win scenario. To the Star Trek fans, that’s a Kobiyashi Maru.

But.

Life will win. We will win. As a species, we will go forward. As societies, we will evolve. As people, we will find a way. We always do. This is not yet the End Of The World. Life will go on. Life moves forward.

But.

Rarely in a straight line.

Jordan Harbour with Nikki

Things for which to be thankful

I am thankful for my Daily Dose of Happiness…

My wife. In the days before drones, you had to go and get photos the hard way. In this case that meant climbing into an inflatable boat and rowing around the headland into and out onto a choppy Lake Ontario, to get some images of the scuppered ship in Jordan Harbour that you can’t see from land.

Got to do what ya got to do to get the shot. All told, I rowed for over six hours that day. This behind the scenes shot I took during a break from rowing shows she is at least as adventurous as I am. She never balks, however outlandish my ideas may be. She knows I won’t put her at risk. Much. Apart from that one time I threw her out of a plane, but that’s another story

As always, I am thankful we do things together. Thanks for supporting me along the way, my love. Many would not. I could do it without you, but it would not be nearly half as much fun. You rock.

And you are my rock. Respect.

Thankful to enjoy the moment in Jordan Harbour with Nikki