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On enjoying what’s at hand

This decade began with snow as nice as anything Addison County has enjoyed in the past few years. (I’m speaking, of course, to those like me who enjoy the white stuff.) We had such deep, light, fluffy covering that it was difficult for my wife and I not just to walk out into the woods every morning on our snowshoes, no matter how much work was beckoning to us.
In fact, we did go out several mornings before work and several afternoons after it. Over the past few years I’ve gotten used to having to drive up the mountain in order to find enough snow and good enough conditions for cross-country skiing. This January I haven’t yet gone up the mountain even once, because I haven’t had to.
Indeed, the only reason I resisted the urge to avoid work and head out on the snow even more than I did, given how convenient the snow conditions made it, was that the snow was so abundant it seemed destined to last all winter. Which is to say, I foolishly ignored the history of the past several years, and took for granted the lovely three weeks of snow we’ve had.
Sadly, the past several days have been quite warm and wet. What snow we got was wet and sloppy, with some light rain mixed in, and it didn’t come close to the amount that melted down. My wife and I did get out on Sunday afternoon for an hour of spring-like cross-country skiing on soft snow near the college athletic fields and the Trail Around Middlebury. But the lovely conditions of late December and early January have basically disappeared overnight, as though it were late March, not mid-January.
Speaking of the dangers of taking things for granted, this past year I managed to catch trout on flies in six different states, two of which (Georgia and South Carolina) were new for me. Six states in a year is only two short of my personal record, set three years ago when our family drove to Yellowstone National Park and I was able to fish in Michigan, South Dakota and Wyoming en route.
I delight in fishing. I delight in visiting new parts of the country, and seeing more of the beauty in the world. I like putting those two things together and fishing in new and beautiful places. One thing I have learned, though, is not to take these opportunities for granted. I am especially aware of this as travel becomes more difficult, more expensive, and the world increasingly less stable.
More importantly, though, as I enter a new year and decade, I have made a conscious decision to appreciate more the fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking and all the wonderful opportunities to enjoy the outdoors right in my own backyard of Addison County.
I was reminded of this recently as I was preparing a lecture on the late English poet, novelist, philosopher, and essayist C.S. Lewis, most famous as the author of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Looking back on a book I published at the start of 2009 about Lewis’s environmental vision, I stumbled again on this passage from one of his personal letters. Contrasting the notion of being “rooted” with that of being “at home everywhere,” he wonders:
“I mean, don’t you enjoy the Alps more precisely because you began by first learning to love in an intimate and homely way our own hills and woods? While the mere globe-trotter, starting not from a home feeling but from guide book’s aesthetic chatter, feels equally at home everywhere only in the sense that he is really at home nowhere? It is just like the difference between vague general philanthropy … and learning first to love your own friends and neighbours (which) makes you more, not less, able to love the next stranger who comes along … In other words doesn’t one get to the universal (either in people or in inanimate nature) thro’ the individual?”
Globe-trotting (especially with a fly rod) can be fun (except for the air travel). The Alps, which I have been to twice, really are stunning. I even got to fish in the Spanish Pyrenees earlier this past decade. I hope to have more opportunities to fish in faraway places. I can also think of many faraway mountains I’d like to snowshoe or cross-country ski on.
But I think Lewis is right. If the opportunity arises again, I’ll appreciate it more to the extent that I have first learned to appreciate, and to be at home in, and rooted in, the woods and streams out my back door. Especially when they are covered in snow.

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