The gold left in the ground

Every now and then, something comes along out of the blue, smacks you on the side of the head, and if you’re wise and lucky enough to be paying attention, you’re changed forever. We expect big events like marriage or graduation or the birth of a child to change us. But, for me, it’s often the simplest little incidents or observations that have fundamentally altered my whole outlook on life and led to greater wisdom.

Today, walking along a trail in the high country of Colorado, surrounded by century-old mining structures under the bustling talus slopes of an active gold mine, I turned a corner and happened upon a view that was pure philosophical treasure.  A massive, decrepit old mining tower left over as waste after a fortune had been made (and absconded with) was silhouetted against the most stunningly beautiful skyline of the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  The stark contrast between the horrifically ugly, man-made refuse of treasure-seekers and the unsurpassed beauty of the natural world brought home something that’s been tiptoeing around the back of my mind for years but needed to come dancing out: Oftentimes, it’s the gold left in the ground that brings the greatest riches.

We are a nation of doers, makers, builders.  We define ourselves by our occupations and measure our ‘net worth’ by how much money we have in the bank and how many expensive— although often quite useless— objects we claim to possess. We parade our children’s latest trophies, medals, and honor roll certificates as though their glittering accomplishments somehow prove that we are the most sparkling generation of parents ever to walk the Earth.  We choose leaders based on who can afford the most garish displays of self aggrandizement and the most brutal take-downs of the other side.  Even in our houses of worship, we genuflect to wealth while patting each other on the back for our piety.

But, does all this doing, making, building, accumulating, and worshipping of wealth really make us any richer?  Is all this activity focused on wealth accumulation making our world, and the world of our children and grandchildren, a better, safer, kinder, more beautiful and more prosperous place to live?  Does the gold we pursue with such focused mania truly enrich our lives or is it just a glittering ball of bling artfully enclosing a heart of coal?

The stark image of the ugliness of man’s pursuit of unbridled wealth compared with the absolute beauty of God’s creation answers with a resounding ‘no.’

It took five decades for me to learn, albeit subconsciously, the value of gold not pursued but simply left in the ground.

There are few meals that can match the delectable taste and tenderness of freshly caught trout cooked over a wood fire in a mountain wilderness. But, there are few feelings so sweet as returning a wild-caught fish to the water and watching it swim away, a brilliant reminder of the unsurpassed glory of freedom.

How many of us have had to cancel a long planned business trip to stay home and care for a sick child only to be renewed by the simple joys of chicken noodle soup and repeated readings of Dr. Seuss?

Does it make sense to constantly buy new clothes when we already have the coziest well-worn sweater and comfiest old pair of faded blue jeans that no money could buy?

Does it make sense to keep working 60-hour weeks to save for a five-star retirement while we neglect diet and exercise and fail to spend time with the ones we love until it’s too late? Or, to earn, earn, earn….consume, consume, consume so much that we can never retire?

As a society, do we really need to be extracting extremely polluting tar sands oil and transporting it thousands of miles to be refined and used to feed our insatiable lust for energy? Wouldn’t it be better to develop renewable energy resources, and leave the tar sands oil in place for future generations who may be better prepared to use it more wisely and with less environmental damage?

Why not leave ‘the gold in the ground’ and enjoy the beauty that is the ground beneath our feet and the clean, beautiful sky above our heads?  That’s the path to true riches.



June 2018

We each make our own magic


Today, walking through the mountains on an early spring day, I happened upon an aspen glen that was just coming into leaf after a long, cold, snowy winter.  The delicate new green leaves shimmered in the sun. The wind turned the closely packed tree trunks into an enormous wooden harp.  Forest birds flitted about, chirping gaily as if the whole mountainside wanted to sing out at the coming of spring.

My camera around my neck, I tried in vain to take even one meaningful photograph. But, every time I snapped a close up of the sun on the leaves or circled the glade while shooting a video, nothing could come close to capturing the essence of the moment. Every time I tried to zoom in on one of the lovely songbirds, it would quickly flit away, hiding behind a tree limb or soaring somewhere beyond my view.  Frustrated, I wished I could just wave a magic wand and utter a spell to draw the birds and keep them close.

Not being in possession of a magic wand, I sat myself down, removed my pack from my shoulders and my camera from my neck and resolved to simply enjoy the aspen grove in peace for just a little longer.  Gazing up at the sky through the tree limbs, breathing deeply to inhale the cool, crisp mountain air, I tried not to think at all but just to soak in the fresh air, the sunshine, the sound of the wind in the leaves— the sights, sounds, and smells of springtime in the mountains.

And, that’s when the magic started.  First, a pair of robins flew by overhead. Then, the bright blue crest of a Steller’s jay appeared from behind a limb.  A dozen sparrows began to dart about, paying little or no attention to the stinky, sweaty human intruder they had previously sought to avoid.

In not much time at all, a tiny, feathered friend perched on a rock so close to me that I could nearly reach out and touch it.  It didn’t flinch when I slowly turned to admire its delicate beauty. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but my little momentary friend seemed as curious about me as I was about it.

Another hiker wandered down the path, and the magical moment was lost forever. Although, I shared with him a few thoughts about the beauty of the glade. And, he kindly shared with me the names of the flowers blooming along the path—enchanted names like anemone and Indian paintbrush (a single, unseasonably early blossom) and purple aster.

No, there are no such things as magic wands.  We can’t just cast a spell and be instantly gratified.  But, we can make our own magic.  We need to slow down, pay attention, and recognize the magic that’s always there, right before our eyes.  If we open our minds and hearts, the magic will come to us and maybe we can even become just a little bit magical, ourselves.