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Quote of the Day: Ralph Waldo Emerson

August 28th, 2011

“That which we persist in doing becomes easier,
not that the nature of the task has changed,
but our ability to do has increased.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

It never fails that people often wonder how I know how to do so many different things. It’s not that I was born with the skills to do everything I do – I’ve spent a lot of time and effort learning. Just like you, when I started doing many of them, I had no idea what I was doing. It took much longer and I made mistakes. Sadly that’s where many people stop. They meet one failure or think that it will always take a lot of time and they abandon their efforts. The thing is, if you persist, eventually it will become second nature. It’s not that you won’t ever make mistakes, but you develop a proficiency for that task and you will be able to complete it with less effort, fewer mistakes and a better final product.

Cooking is a prime example. I’ve been cooking for so long that it’s second nature to me, I don’t have to think about what spices to add to the chicken I’m roasting. I know that thyme and lemon will be really great, or sage and butter would also work well. When I make beef, a healthy dose of freshly ground pepper and salt is usually all I add if it’s good pastured beef. When I’m cooking tougher cuts of venison, I usually braise them in wine or bitter beer to enhance the flavor. When I make bread I know what how the texture of ciabatta dough differs from regular sourdough or a sweet roll dough. It’s not that I always possessed these skills. I baked a few sourdough bricks and ciabatta with no holes until I got a feel for the dough. I had some OK chicken until I discovered what ingredients work best. It takes time, it takes persistence, it takes the willingness to try again and again after defeat, and it takes observation to notice the small differences.

The longer I persist in doing these things, reading and trying to learn how to do them better, practicing and learning from my failures, the better I will get. I will most likely never: take a photo with the skill of Ansel Adams, cook a meal as delicious as Ina Garten, paint something as beautiful as a Monet, bake a loaf of bread as good as Peter Reinhart, have a garden as beautiful at Longwood, or write as well as Ralph Waldo Emerson – but that’s not going to stop me from taking photos, cooking, painting or writing. I won’t let the fear of not being great steal the joy of the creative process, the growth that comes from learning and the contentment that comes from being proficient. I believe that our minds are like a pool of water, if we keep them active they stay clean, clear and able to support life, if we stop learning we become stagnate, murky and devoid of life.

What new skills have you been working on or what are you planning on learning soon?

Reading & Watching

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.