The real work


On a hot, dusty August Saturday a few years ago, people from all over the North Fork Valley convened at a country veterinarian’s office just outside Paonia, Colorado (HCN’s hometown). We came with paintbrushes and paint, wheelbarrows, buckets, rakes and shovels, food and drink. About a dozen of us, ranging in age from 8 to 70-something, got to work scraping and repainting the shabby old building, cleaning up the grounds and repairing the roof.

We did all this for Dr. Norman Vincent (known around town as “Doc V”) — the man who stitches up our injured dogs and tends to our sick cats at any time of the day or night, vaccinating them and cleaning their teeth, and charging just a fraction of what a big-city vet would. After we’d finished, Doc V’s place was transformed. And, in a way, so were we.

That night, I looked up a half-remembered passage from the writer and critic Wendell Berry: “And the real name of our connection to this everywhere different and differently named earth is ‘work.’ We are connected by work even to the places where we don’t work, for all places are connected; it is clear by now that we cannot exempt one place from our ruin of another. The name of our proper connection to the earth is ‘good work,’ for good work involves much giving of honor. It honors the source of its materials; it honors the place where it is done; it honors the art by which it is done; it honors the thing that it makes and the user of the made thing.”

This special issue of High Country News looks at what we all can do as a community, when we let go of our Western individualism. Despite our rugged reputation, we are often stronger together than standing alone. Rebuilding a connection to a place can also build connections among people, as Washington writer Ana Maria Spagna describes in “The Exact Same Place,” in which Mountain Maidu Indians formed a broad coalition to reclaim a sacred valley in California’s Sierra Nevada from a utility company. In interviews with writers such as Erika T. Wurth, Mitchell S. Jackson and Bryce Andrews, we hear other perspectives on transcending the limitations — and learning the lessons — of community. And in “Claustrophilia,” contributing editor Sarah Gilman finds that in the harsh, unpeopled spaces of Mongolia, as in the American West, closeness is more than comfort: It can mean survival. (Especially if you haven’t brought a tent.)

Whether to get through one bitterly cold night, or to thrive over a lifetime, we need each other more than we’re willing to admit. Accepting that we are part of a community, that we rely on each other — that can be where the real “good work” is.

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