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Paul Andersen: Thoughts on a trip to a ski hut

“Golf!” The word is uttered like a profanity. “Golf has been the cause of more corporate waste and lost productivity than marijuana, cocaine and alcohol combined.” Curt offers this proclamation with a final sweep of the broom. The ski hut is clean and tidy, and a light sifting of snow drifts past the windows.

While Curt is deriding the Kingdom of Golf, I muse about the world we are about to reenter. When you’re on a hut trip – blissfully out of range of cell phones and bereft of radios and TV – you feel apart from the madness of world affairs.

The wilderness is a beautiful buffer that calms the mind and grounds the senses in an organic state of awareness. You notice the way the snow falls, the direction of the wind, the stillness in a spruce-fir forest, the wreath of clouds surrounding ragged mountain peaks. Still, the mind is drawn to unsettling thoughts.

The pending war with Iraq (scheduled in March for better ratings), the hostilities with North Korea (our nukes vs. their nukes), a faltering, uncertain stock market (oh, where oh where has my IRA gone?), the ever-increasing defense budget ($5.7 gazillion dollars at last count) and the highest deficits in recent history (what, me worry?); these are compelling reasons for a perpetual hut trip.

Yet we must come down from on high, and the first step in returning home is cleaning the hut for the next visitors. So, we scrub, sweep, split kindling, stack firewood, scoop ashes, shovel the decks and fill the water cauldron with clean, white snow.

When the padlock clicks down on the dead bolt and the pack is securely snugged around waist and shoulders, thoughts turn to re-entry. Detached musing segues into a sense of dread as you wonder what might have happened during your sojourn and what kind of world you will find.

Skiing down the trail, inhaling cold, crisp air as swirling clouds wrap the sun in a misty cloak, I think about Sen. Robert Byrd’s profound speech to the Senate a few weeks ago.

“To contemplate war is to think about the most horrible of human experiences,” said Byrd. “Yet, this Chamber is, for the most part, silent – ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing. We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events.”

Tracking through the stillness, I focus on the glide of my skis, the rhythm of my breathing, the cadence of my legs, but the nearer I get to the trailhead, the more illuminated are the pressing threats of our time. The words of America’s preeminent Jeffersonian philosopher, Wendell Berry, float into my thoughts.

“It is understandable that we should have reacted to the attacks of September 11, 2001, by curtailment of civil rights, by defiance of laws, and by resort to overwhelming force, for those things are the ready products of fear and hasty thought. But they cannot protect us against the destruction of our own land by ourselves.

“They cannot protect us against the selfishness, wastefulness and greed that we have legitimized here as economic virtues, and have taught to the world. They cannot protect us against our government’s long-standing disdain for any form of self-sufficiency or thrift.”

If Byrd and Berry are right, and I believe they are, then America is being steered on a self-serving course without a moral compass, pursuing national interests at the expense of the environment, of peace, of diplomacy and of long-standing alliances.

“In only the space of two short years,” said Byrd, “this reckless and arrogant administration has initiated policies which may reap disastrous consequences for years. On the eve of what could possibly be a vicious terrorist attack in retaliation for our attack on Iraq, it is business as usual in the United States Senate. We are truly `sleepwalking through history.’ “

If history is to teach us anything, if the mistaken patterns of the past are to guide us to sound decisions in the future, then we must question the inertia of the status quo. We must move into new ways of thinking and acting, both as individuals and as a nation.

“Since the end of World War II,” writes Berry, “many governments have recognized that peace is not just a desirable condition, but a practical necessity. But we have not yet learned to think of peace apart from war.

“We can no longer afford to confuse peaceability with passivity. Authentic peace is no more passive than war. Like war, it calls for discipline and intelligence and strength of character, though it calls also for higher principles and aims. If we are serious about peace, then we must work for it as ardently, seriously, continuously, carefully, and bravely as we now prepare for war.”

At the trailhead, I drop my pack, click out of my skis and inhale the fresh, invigorating air. A last glance up the trail shows the cloud-filled valley lost in gray and white swirls, as if a blanket has been drawn over the land. Up there in those clouds is the closest thing to peace I know.

[Paul Andersen wonders when a hut trip will inspire a confident re-entry. His column runs on Mondays.]


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