A Matter of Responsibility   12 comments

I love snow. It’s something we don’t get very often here in the Northwest. When we do get it, it tends to be of the hit-the-ground-and-melt variety. An inch or two is significant for us—this isn’t the Midwest we’re talking about here. So it’s a special day when we get any sort of decent accumulation.

The last two days have seen some very decent accumulation, at least here on the farm. On Sunday, I awoke to two inches of snow blanketing the farm, bringing abundant joy upon its initial reveal. A bit more fell during the day, alternating between showers of snow and graupel, creating a picture-perfect view as I sat in the main house drinking coffee, reading, and attempting to write a blog post. Yesterday, I awoke to yet more snow, with a full five inches then covering the land. The trees drooped under the weight of all this snow, their branches low and burdened. The few hooped, plastic row covers had collapsed, crush beneath the deceptively heavy, fluffy whiteness. Everywhere, the snow lay mounded and heap, the farm’s various edges and angles softened, blunted, smoothed out. As I walked from my yurt to the main house, I glanced over at Onion Peak, beautiful and glorious, its craggy rise mottled white and gray—snow and stone—and a strip of snowy evergreens midway up the peak glowing golden in a brief reveal of morning sunlight. I stood a moment, and stared, and marveled at this beauty and the good fortune of my presence in it.

In the house, I made coffee and checked the radar. A band of snow was moving toward us. Not long after that it began to fall, light at first but growing heavier. Determined to take a walk in the snow, I put on a few layers, made a fresh cup of coffee, slipped on my boots and headed out into the storm.

It took me only a moment to realize where I should go. The farm is situated on a north-facing hillside and the land extends up onto a tall, forested ridge that stretches back from Brian’s house, running above the small creek that provides our water. An overgrown path leads up and along this ridge, eventually arriving at a high vantage point with the creek below on the south side and the farm’s main house and growing fields on the north side. This is where I went. Brian had shown me the path a few weeks before and I already had hiked up to this spot once for a short bit of meditation. Being up there while the snow fell heavy around me sounded transcendent.

I climbed the path slowly, keeping my coffee cup steady so as not to spill its contents, my head down and hood up to protect from falling clumps of snow. I pushed through the reaching branches of shrubs and scotch broom, brushed past sword ferns bowed with snow—spread wide and pushed low to the ground—and knocked the snow from low-hanging tree branches as I pushed through their barrier. The depth of the snow on the ground varied from a light dusting beneath thick sections of the forest canopy to multiple inches where the canopy cleared, or where the trees were deciduous and bare rather than needled evergreens. Where the snow clung thin and light, dark green moss more often than not showed through, its color yet more vibrant in the otherwise muted landscape.

The creek, unseen, flowed to my right, providing sound in what would otherwise have been a land silenced by the snow. The trees around me towered far into the sky. Many there are old growth, a mixture of fir, hemlock, cedar and other species. They are a marvel, not least of which because there is so little old growth left around here. Most of it has long since been cut, transported, milled and shipped. Now even the lower-quality trees are being cut and pulped or shipped to Asia as cheap building material. These here, though, stood tall and steady and powerful, providing a windbreak for the farm that protects us during brutal coastal storms and presiding over the land with a majesty that can’t be overstated.

Being on that ridge, amongst those towering old-growth trees and with the snow all around me—an inch or two on the ground and an inconceivable amount in the air—I couldn’t help but feel a deep joy at the beauty of that place. I stood on the ridge and looked out toward the creek, still sight unseen below me but clearly heard. Across the way was another hill and more forest—state land as-yet uncut. Large snowflakes whirled through the air and those trees served as a backdrop nearly whited out due to the abundance of flakes. The scene was so picturesque—a variety of trees everywhere, rising so high into the air, the sound of the creek below and the snow devouring it all, the branches of the evergreens mounded down, all of it so intensely pretty—and my place in it so small and so overcome with awe that I felt close to tears, heartened and humbled. In that moment the words came to me: There is a grace in this life.

I breathed deep. Turning, I walked to the other side of the ridge, stepping carefully on the cluttered forest floor. The heavy snow began to transition to something smaller and more icy, though just as abundant. These icier flakes hit my rain coat with quiet tinks, their small sound merging with the creek’s. I stood at the opposite edge of the ridge and looked out toward the farm, into the white air, the far tree line, the simple muteness of it all and—

There is a grace in this life.

The words repeated in my head, again and again as I stood on that ridge, drifting back and forth and looking out at the snow, at the distant trees, up at the near trees, the way they stretched forever above me, and down at the forest floor, at the jumbled mess of twigs and pine needles, fallen branches and moldering leaves and mossy coverings, downed logs and mounds of duff, all of it coated lightly in snow. Across the way, on the hillside above the creek, a winter-bare ash kept losing chunks of snow off its branches, the powdery ice drifting toward the ground in a disintegrating descent. I watched this happen over and over and—

There is a grace in this life.

In that grace, in that moment, I understood something more about work. Yes, it’s habit. But it’s also responsibility. My life is immensely blessed. To be able to stand on that ridge yesterday, in the transcendence of a snow storm, in one of the most beautiful places on this planet, is a matter of grace and blessing and good fortune that is nearly incomprehensible. And, really, I have done little to deserve or earn it. I have worked far less hard than most throughout the world. I have at times been selfish and ignorant and uncaring and oblivious to the harm that I and my lifestyle does. I don’t mean this as a condemnation of myself as I do think I’m a good person, but it is a reality. It is a simple truth I think it important to acknowledge. I live a life of grace and it has not been fully earned. It’s been earned only partly—and a very small part, at that.

To not do the best work I can do at this point would be an abdication of responsibility. I find myself here, the recipient of some incredible amount of good luck, immersed in a life that, while at times challenging, is good. It’s blessed. It’s more than I ever should have hoped for, and yet it somehow is my life. At the very least, I have to show appreciation for what I have through the doing of work as good as I am capable of doing it. To not, at this point, do the work that I believe is necessary and good and will prove a benefit to myself and my community would be not just an abdication of my responsibility to this world that provides me so much, but immoral. How could I experience such joy and beauty and not feel an absolute responsibility to protect, perpetuate and bring as many people as possible into equivalent joy and beauty? How could I take my day in the snow and not feel a debt to the world—a debt that only can be repaid through good, restorative work?

I spent a day in the snow, amongst the trees, immersed in joy, and it indebted me. This too, then, is my work. I must pay back this debt, and so many others that have yet to be paid. Paying it back will take habit, yes, to engage in the necessary work, but it will also take the sense of responsibility I felt so clearly up on that ridge. This is my work for a purpose, and that purpose yesterday lived up in the trees, lingered on the ridge, and fell in the snow. It graced me, and I will repay it.

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Posted January 17, 2012 by Joel Caris in Hiking, Place, Work

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12 responses to “A Matter of Responsibility

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  1. Lovely piece…thanks for passing along the beauty.

    I don’t think grace is something we can “earn.” But we *can* strive to become worthy of it. :^)

  2. This is a beautiful explanation of your life! “Grace” is another word for the charm and elegance of the blessed life you have created for yourself.

  3. Your snow should hit us tonight. It will be the first snow of the year. We usually get our first snow in November. We usually just enjoy the first snow, but we have made plans for our annual rug stomp. Better do it now cause we just don’t know if we will get another real snow. Our rug stomp consists of dragging all our many rugs out on the fresh snow, face down, and walking all over them to clean them for the year. We have a cobble stone floor so rugs are real important. I’d guess the same applies to a yurt. I do know this years rug stomp will be filled with grace! Thanks Dennis

    • I’ve never heard of a rug stomp, Dennis, but I love the idea! It’s a pretty brilliant idea. I don’t have a rug here in the yurt, exactly, so much as a mat. It’s made of recycle plastic, via a fair trade store. The farm owner bought it for in here. It works pretty well, but I don’t imagine a snowy rug stomp would do too much for it. That’s a big of a shame, as it sounds like fun. I’ll keep it in mind for future winters, when perhaps I do have a rug that needs a good cleaning.

      How much snow did you end up getting?

  4. A resounding “Yes, indeed!” from me in regards to my responsibility to do good work and give back a little (a lot!) to the world that has been remarkably kind to me for reasons beyond my understanding.

    Your enthusiasm for the snow is infectious. I have lost my delight in it somewhat after a few extremely snowy winters, (where I spent more time shoveling and dealing with a leaking roof than sledding or snowshoeing…) This winter has been mild, and what snow has fallen has seemed a bit more magical than in past years. I’m so glad you got a good storm and enjoyed it so much. Pictures…?

    • Ah, I was wondering if someone would ask about pictures. I would have loved to take some, but no working camera. Also, some other thoughts on that may find themselves into a post very soon.

      I’m glad you’ve been able to enjoy the snow more this year. I can understand it not being so magical when it’s always around and when you have to dedicate a decent amount of time to the logistics of dealing with it. I went and stayed with friends in Indiana last winter for a few weeks and there was over a foot of snow on the ground for most of that time. It was lovely in some ways, but did get a bit old after a time. The friends live car free and many people in their neighborhood don’t bother to shovel the sidewalks. It can make it tricky getting around.

      It didn’t truly burn me out on snow, though. I love it something fierce. I think I could live just fine in a place that had it all winter and still not truly tire of it, even if it made me grouchy now and again.

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  7. I believe you have done some good work in sharing your joy and that moment with us; to impart some of the awe that enlivens our own senses of reverence and awareness.

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