Fern-like frost grows on a dirty window.

KODIAK — One morning last week, I stepped outside onto the front deck to take a few pictures of a dirty window because the cold left frosty, fern-like shapes all over the glass panels that encircle the deck. And, I was loving the pink clouds. I’m trying to do what feels right. What are you up to? Are you going to the gym? Learning how to knit? Adding kale to your smoothies? 

I’m all for fresh starts. Though I prefer changes that help me simplify, not complicate, my life.

The photos I took that morning aren’t outstanding. I chose, after all, a dirty window for a palette. But, I enjoyed the peace and quiet: the frost, the light, my camera and me. It reminded me of a story by the great novelist Leo Tolstoy. He wrote a delightful folk tale, “The Three Hermits.” 

Summarized, it goes something like this:

On an island there lived three old hermits. They were so simple that the only prayer they used was: We are three; Thou art Three; have mercy on us!” Great miracles were manifested during this naïve prayer.

One day, the local bishop heard about the three wizzled hermits and their inadmissible prayer. So, he decided to pay them a visit to teach them the proper invocations. He hired a boat and sailed to the island.

“That is not the right way to pray,” he told the hermits. “Your heavenly petition is undignified. I will teach you the customary prayers.”

It was dark by the time the bishop returned to the boat. The captain unfurled the sails and off they went. 

Partway across the moonlit sea, the bishop turned around and saw, following the vessel, a radiant light. As it approached, he recognized the three hermits. They were holding hands and running across the water as if it was dry land.

“We forgot the prayers you taught us,” they cried as they reached the boat. “Please repeat them for us.” The awestruck bishop shook his head.

“Dear ones,” he replied humbly, “continue to live with your simple prayer!”

Why am I sharing this folk tale with you?

There’s a difference between something you know intellectually and something you realize through experience.

Take the bishop in Tolstoy’s story. He was no doubt a learned man able to quote Holy Scripture. Does that mean he fully realized and understood what he was saying?

On the other hand, the old hermits — who had missing teeth, tattered clothes, and scraggly long hair — glowed with inner knowing born of direct experience.

Make sense? 

Maybe not. 

Okay, here’s an example. I can wax eloquently about the fine characteristics of an orange. When I’m done, will you have experienced an orange? Hardly. You need to touch, smell, see and taste it. 

In the same way, how will you know the rewards of growing your own salad greens? Not by reading about it in a catalog, watching YouTube videos or discussing the nuances of good soil with a friend over coffee. You need to get your hands dirty. You must realize it for yourself.

Another thing. The hermits lived a simple lifestyle. It seems a foreign concept in today’s do-it-now, do-it-all world, doesn’t it?

Remember I said that I prefer changes that simplify, not complicate? 

Simplicity allows is to make meaningful and [hopefully] healthy changes. Simplicity helps quiet our monkey mind, which means we live more fully.

Speaking of simplicity, last week I shared my favorite seed catalogs and lists of easy-to-grow vegetables, herbs and flowers. If you are new to gardening, you may have thought, “That’s great, Marion, but I don’t know where to start. And I don’t have time.”

If you truly want to grow vegetables, herbs or flowers, I offer you a simple action plan:

1. Turn off the TV

2. Buy garden gloves and write your name on them

3. Dig

Marion Owen has over 30 years of experience as a teacher and columnist. She’s on a mission to help busy people enhance their daily lives. To contact Marion or to sign up for her “Goodness from Kodiak” newsletter, go to her blog at

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