A man I’ve never met or seen or heard has deeply inspired me as an actor, a teacher and a person. He wasn’t a performer or a writer or an athlete but his work has had a profound effect on me.
A few years ago, I was acting in a play in Chemainus, B.C. on Vancouver Island. Almost everyday, I walked through a lovely area in a forest called the Hermit Trails. I spent many hours enjoying that place of beauty and tranquility. When I learned the story of the man who designed and built the trails, my daily walk became a time for personal reflection and perspective.
The Hermit Trails were named for the elderly reclusive man who created them. He lived alone in the forest and was nicknamed “the hermit”.
The painting that illustrates this post is a mural in Chemainus B.C. painted by Paul Yagurta. A print hangs on the wall of my office, and provides daily inspiration.
The hermit was old and stooped and slow, but he worked diligently for many years, and moved hundreds of rocks and stone slabs to create a series of pathways and steps over a few acres of forest, bordered by gardens of wild flowers. Single-handed, with few resources, the hermit created a small forest paradise that’s been enjoyed by thousands of people.
The hermit’s name was Charlie Abbot. Charlie arrived quietly in Chemainus sometime in the 1970’s and lived alone in a makeshift shack in the forest where he created and maintained his environmental masterpiece until he died in 1989 at 87 years old. The Hermit Trails are Charlie’s legacy. Nature provided the raw materials, but Charlie’s labour translated nature’s beauty into eloquent human terms. Charlie was dedicated and determined and his work was deceptively simple. He used crude natural objects to create a mystical place that celebrates nature. Since Charlie’s death, local residents have maintained the Hermit Trails so Charlie’s creation continues to be enjoyed and appreciated.
I don’t know much about Charlie except what’s written here and I like that bit of mystery because Charlie’s work ethic and achievement are what define him for me. I can only guess what motivated Charlie to create this little piece of paradise but I’m sure it wasn’t fortune or fame. Regardless of his background or motivation, Charlie’s work is impressive, joyful and inspiring and has had a profound impact on how I now view my own work.
My daily walks through the remarkable place that Charlie crafted without regard for recognition and remuneration, motivated me to reflect on the value of my own work as an actor, a filmmaker and teacher. While money and accolades are certainly appreciated, they are not the primary goals of most actors or artists. Sure, applause and a paycheque are always welcome but many great artists work with dedication and passion for many years without receiving any tangible rewards but are still considered successful.
The size of an audience doesn’t always reflect the success of a creative endeavour and we can’t measure the value of creativity in financial terms. The real rewards of creativity are the satisfaction of accomplishment, the tangible results of one’s labour, and the joy of sharing creativity with others.
Actors, artists or anyone can accomplish amazing things if they are primarily driven by the simple, honest desire to create excellent work and then work diligently with patience and perseverance to satisfy that desire.
Charlie’s gone. I never met him, but I feel blessed by the joy and inspiration I received from his labour and his creation.
I learned a few other things from Charlie;
You are your own best resource.
Everything you really need is already close at hand.
Focus on the task and work hard with patience and perseverance.
Place one stone at a time. Plant one flower at time.
Simple, honest work can create something beautiful, complex and profound.