“Are you a fisherman?” The two young boys asked me.

“No, I’m an artist.” I replied.

“Are you going to paint that?” one of them wondered aloud, gesturing toward the waterfall that was in front of me.

“Yep. Do you wanna help?” I offered. At this their interest peaked. Then the cute young one asked…”When you are done can we have it?”

“We will see.” I smiled.

The boys’ names were Hussein and Abushek. They were half Sudanese and Iraqi, an odd mix for such a Caucasian town as Boise, Idaho. They reminded me of my own youth. Two young boys out exploring, throwing rocks and sometimes skipping them, riding their bikes over dirt humps they call jumps, and sword fighting with pieces of driftwood.

The day was so beautiful everyone in town was out enjoying the light. The bike trails and parks were filled with the smell of summer’s first BBQ’s and the crack and peal of laughter coming from the Bocce and volleyball games or the birthday party’s piñata.

I prepared the watercolor paper and let Abushek do the first stroke of the sky, and Hussein the river. “What if I mess up?” Abushek worried.

“You can’t screw up, it is the first stroke,” I counseled. It is true. The first stroke is the easiest; it is the 3rd to 10th or so where you really have a chance to derail your efforts. J

Hussein kindly filled my water bucket with river water for me, and the two boys perched themselves on the giant and round tumbled boulders that lay strewn about the rivers edge. We began to paint. Then, like most young boys…they got bored…and wandered.

They came back after 15 minutes, Abushek the more talkative one engaged me in conversation. He told me about their school, their parents, and even described how to get to their house—just in case I wanted to ask my mom if I could go over to play. They were sweet.

After some silence, Abushek asked me, “Are you going to do another one?”

I chucked, “Are you worried about having to share this art work with Hussein, and who will ultimately get it?”

“No,” he looked confused and apologetic, “It’s just that…well…this one is not very good. I thought you might start over.” At this, I lost it laughing—so sweet. The honesty of a young child with no malice intended is truly the greatest critique one could ever receive.

“Well, hopefully I can save it then,” I chuckled. “What do you think is wrong with it?”

“Umm…it doesn’t look very good,” he said. Again, I just laughed, thankful for the moment. I resumed painting. I showed him what and why, how to count repetition, see patterns, understanding what you are painting, the nature of perspective, and colors in nature and how to push them…he just sat quietly listening.

After another 15 minutes, Abushek and Hussein came to me, “We’re leaving.”

“Well, what do you think? Do you still want it?” I queried.

“No,” was the short reply. Not mean, just a statement of fact.

Hopeful for another elucidating statement, I asked, “Is it any good?”

“Uh…not really.” And with that, they mounted their bikes and rode away. The two boys reminded me of myself so much at that age. I spent my entire childhood playing in the creeks and rivers of Oregon. Always looking for adventure, and often finding mischief. Catching frogs, feeding ducks, and seeing who could lob the largest rock into the water to produce the explosive splash.

How nice to be able to relive that moment with these sweet boys. How nice to do a collaborative work with them. How nice to receive another “Thank You Sensei” moment.