Paul Andersen: Uphillers climb mountains to counter coronavirus
Steve Skadron’s vision for Aspen ski mountains has come true. The former mayor wanted to make Aspen an uphill capital, and that’s what has happened since the lifts shut down.
My son and quarantine buddy, Tait, and I marveled at the hushed silence after having skinned up Aspen Mountain in a thick fog cloud last week. We saw just one other skinner and exchanged greetings — from a safe distance. “This is so good for me!” she affirmed. “I just had to get out of the house.”
Self-quarantine can be a tough adjustment when life BC was so packed. Now there’s more unstructured time — a blessing and a curse. For the locked-down, homebound, it can be a curse. For uphillers, time outdoors has been a blessing on empty slopes with fresh powder and slack work demands.
Not that slack work is a blessing. For many, it means a dire sense of loss, not only from reduced income, but from lack of purpose. Hike skiing has been a great replacement for workplace productivity for a retiree-in-training like me. The outdoors can provide a necessary antidote to Weltschmerz — a German expression for global anxiety.
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Tait and I have counted our outdoor blessings many times — on skis, on bikes, with backpacks — in the mountains and the deserts. Rather than fixate on the stupor of TV, we shun the virtual for the real experiences of getting out as far as our bodies, minds and spirits allow.
The run down Ruthie’s last week was sublime on 6 inches of fluff. By then, other hikers were heading up. We waved and said friendly hellos. Everyone was keeping safe distances in a partitioned yet celebratory atmosphere for where we all live.
Driving home on 82, a glance at Tiehack showed strings of uphillers heading for their skiing fix. Aspen Skiing Co. had even groomed some runs, a nice gesture to their non-paying, uphill clientele.
My family and I are striving not to allow the virus to dampen our spirits. It’s possible to live health fully on the periphery of the virus, and even to thrive. That’s the lesson Viktor Frankl took from having survived Nazi concentration camps. In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Frankl made the strong case that individual thriving is possible under even the worst circumstances.
Frankl, a psychologist, coped with what he called “barbed wire sickness” from captive containment. He wrote: “As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before.”
That’s why nature is intensely gratifying for many today, as a Washington Post columnist explained last week in defense of keeping public lands open.
“Especially at a time of crisis and high anxiety, we need a safe outlet, and the outdoors is pretty much the only one left.”
He wrote: “It’s not just about hugging trees: The outdoors also allows us to be in sight and earshot of other humans at safe distances. Especially at this awful time, we need reminders that we still live in a society of fellow flesh-and-blood humans, not just two-dimensional simulacra thereof.”
Skinning up the mountains, cross-country skiing, bike riding, hiking — all offer opportunities for social engagement, with distancing, plus a physical outlet for calming the turmoil many are feeling.
Frankl wrote: “Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.” As harsh as it sounds, this yin/yang contrast is part of being human. So, advised Frankl, is spiritual growth.
“It is just such exceptionally difficult external situations that give man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself. Naturally, only a few people were capable of reaching great spiritual heights, but a few were given the chance to attain human greatness which in ordinary circumstances they would never have achieved.”
Frankl echoed Darwin’s findings on survival, which have been misinterpreted to imply survival of the strongest. Rather, Darwin meant survival of the fittest through adaptation to changing environments, which we must all do today.
Thankfully, the governor’s stay-at-home order allows for outdoor recreation, an essential ingredient for adaptive coping and for nurturing the spirit.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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