Notes to self

Setting priorities for the year ahead.

 

Yakama citizen Everett Aleck crosses a wooden bridge over the Klickitat River, a tributary of the Columbia, during the fall coho salmon run. Hood River, Oregon-based photographer Michael Hanson spent time with Aleck and his family along the Klickitat as part of his ongoing series of wet-plate images, “And the Rain Will Break Us,” which explores the history, culture and geography of the Columbia River Basin.
Michael Hanson

I’ve just returned from a magical place where wonder rules the day. The place has a magnetism that draws me in, so occasionally I pack my gear and drive several hours in order to spend a few days there. I keep returning to this place because it is sublime, beckoning, seemingly larger than life — though everything in it is exactly the size it should be. Being there rekindles and expands my capacity to feel wonder. It reduces life to the essentials: Keep warm, stay hydrated, eat well, range widely. This distillation provides conditions conducive to pondering the big stuff: Am I living a good life? Am I taking care of others? Am I taking care of myself?

It’s easy to get lost in the churn of deadlines, notifications, meetings and chores. We bounce from one demand to another, and when we finally come up for air, we wonder where all the time goes. Once a year, I take it upon myself to generate a different kind of to-do list, one that I can come back to often to make sure I haven’t lost sight of what really matters — the things by which we measure a life. This year’s list goes something like this:

Experience wonder as often and as deeply as possible. Find places that make your heart sing. Take care of your people, your community, your compatriots. Use only what you need. Measure your decisions by how much justice and joy they generate in the world. Take care of the land — the big open spaces and the intimate close-knit ones. Navigate with grace, yielding when necessary and surmounting obstacles that would keep you from staying true to yourself. Keep good company. Help those in need. Release your worries and fears, and indulge in what makes you feel confident and strong. Find your center, look around, breathe in. Respect plant life. Admire animals. Worship rocks. Take a stand for what you believe in.

Jennifer Sahn, editor-in-chief

Make time to hit reset, re-evaluate, and come back always to the land, for the land is what sustains us, home to both our short-sighted mistakes and our deepest aspirations. Practice kindness and compassion. Give more than you take. Be a good human.

Here’s to another year of doing the work and keeping the faith.

We welcome reader letters. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor. See our letters to the editor policy.

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