Call of the Wild


Dear Artist,

A beautiful woman came and sat at our table. We have known her for many years. She was married to a good friend of ours who died one year ago on New Year’s Eve. Anna is an artist and a mother. A few years ago she ran away, back to the country of her birth, Denmark. She took virtually nothing with her: a few photos of her sons, an unbelievably small amount of money, and a little red book that contained the addresses of the good people in her life. From her new home she divorced her then-husband and married another Dane. Not long after that he suddenly died. He was still young. Anna has loved well and is loved by all. Her grown sons adore her. “Do you still have the little red book?” I asked. “Yes, of course,” she said, “and there is something very special in it that has meant a great deal to me.” She took the book from her purse and showed me a page with the cryptic quote attributed to Jack London:


“​Cape Cod Morning” 1950
by Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967​)

“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out
in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in
magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”

Jack London was a man of courage. He held that “it takes courage to go, and courage to stay.” His wanderlust had him cram several lifetimes into his 40 years. His books of adventure and human struggle are still widely read. “The Call of the Wild,” is one of the best dog stories ever written.


“Cape Cod Evening”​ 1939
​​by Edward Hopper

In the holiday season people come back together for the sake of family and friends. It’s a time of joy and happiness and in some places even peace. It’s also a time to reassess and review our lives and the lives of others. To all of the Anna’s of this world, we say, “Good going.”

Best regards,


PS: “Imagination is everything. Imagination is the voice of daring.” (Henry Miller, also from Anna’s book)


​”The Lighthouse at Two Lights” 1929
by Edward Hopper

Esoterica: Jack London (1876-1916) wrote 50 books in 17 years. His principle was to keep going to new locations in order to gain inspiration and a sense of place. He started as a journalist in San Francisco, travelling to the South Pacific, the Klondike, England and other places. An alcoholic, he died by his own hand at his ranch in California.



This letter was originally published as “Call of the Wild” on December 21, 2001.



  1. As a friend of mine once said, “I would rather burn out than rust out!” In this approaching holiday season, a truly special gift would be to have peace and happiness in the world.

  2. I’m 77 and working hard to build a 700 seat live theatre ,art Gallery , dinner theatre , here in Sackville ,Nova Scotia ,I don’t have time to think about the future , also keep up my pastel painting.

    • You impress me greatly old man! I haven’t stopped either but I’m only 68!!!! My husband and I are doing something similar in Mexico but not as spacious. Abrezos from a fellow painter.

  3. Sounds like she lived /living life to the full !
    Unlocked by what the world gives!
    My wish is to be free of mainly me !
    Wonderful read

  4. Dear Sara, first of all, thank you for continuing the important work of your dear father who I admired so much. I am sure with your own personal creativity this site will continue to thrive and provide the much needed comraderie and education and sharing that the Painter’s Keys has done for years.

    Recently, I conducted a painting workshop in New Mexico. Two of the ladies heard about the workshop from this site. I am thankful for that.

    As to the “Call of the Wild”. I think especially now in light of the horrific acts of violence that have happenned around the world by the hijadist we have to be very aware of “choices in life”. How we live our lives not only defines us as a country or a group but on an individual level we should aspire to the broadest spectrum life can offer. We are only on this earth for a very short time and living each day with passion and love of ourselves and others brings us closer to the center, which is the source for everything we do.

    In my own work, I try to paint what I love and try to share the beauty that I see with others. I hope that I will be able to embrace my creativity, travel and appreciate the diversity of my fellow man in all places that I travel. My heart is pretty heavy right now due to the continued unrest but I am confident that if we allow ourself to “use our time wisely” as Jack London suggest we can live our lives to the fullest.

      • Like Jack London, I’m also an alcoholic and thanks to AA, I’ve been sober for 61 years. I don’t have a bucket list. I’ve been prosperous and creative for 61 years and I look forward to many more. London and Berryman and Hemingway and many more had so much more to give the world … Sad!

  5. Yikes! Suicide? I’m having trouble figuring out how that meshes in with a life well-lived. haha. Well I’ll have to put London on my reading list for sure.

      • As a person who grew up with 2 alcoholics, I would say that Jack London was likely self-medicating, and was trying to find peace and that “something else” (outside of himself) that would make him happy. I suspect the wanderlust may be part of that, and after 40 years of wandering and trying to numb the pain, he just didn’t find out that it was inside all along….

  6. Charlotte Morris on

    Jack London died of uremic poisoning, not suicide. There was an autopsy which is on record. At the time of his death there were confusing news reports that led some to believe he had killed himself.

  7. Thank you for those beautiful words and sentiments to live by, the meaningful life story,, and those excellent images of Hopper’s work. An all time favorite. Thank you for this inspiring website……I am always uplifted and encouraged after reading it!!

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