For many of us, the past four years have been bleak and disheartening. We’ve seen unconscionable rollbacks of environmental protection and minority rights, indefensible increases of income inequality and racial hatred, over 400,000 dead and millions sick from the pandemic, and many people demonstrating a total disregard for anyone not like themselves – as well as for basic democratic principles.
In many ways the U.S. today feels like a disaster area. But with new President Joe Biden and Democratic control of the House and Senate, change – and recovery – feels possible.
At this moment I’m reminded of similar feelings I had many years before, in 1998. That earlier disaster hadn’t involved politics or friends or family. It involved tree skiing at the Mad River Glen ski area.
I’ve been an avid skier for a long time, and for many years I’ve really enjoyed skiing in the woods. Unlike open trails, tree skiing offers a sense of both adventure and intimacy with nature. Since 1996 I’ve worked on crews clearing the “secret tree runs” in Mad River’s woods. In the winter I go back and ski the runs I’ve helped clear, as well as others I’ve been shown by friends or discovered on my own.
On New Year’s Day, 1998, a friend showed me a new group of tree runs I hadn’t known existed. After that I couldn’t wait to get back and further explore that area. But only a few days later Mad River was hit hard by the great ice storm of 1998. When I returned in mid-January, I found all of my favorite tree runs ruined, filled with impenetrable tangles of downed trees and branches. Like everyone else present when the mountain reopened to skiers, I was devastated. It appeared it would be many years before the woods would be skiable again.
At the time, the previous owner of Mad River Glen was philosophical. She observed that ice storms were simply one of Nature’s ways of renewing the forest, knocking down the weak and diseased trees and opening things up for new trees to sprout. It seemed like a faint hope at the time. But it was still a hope.
That spring the Mad River Glen community sprang into action to repair the extensive damage. While volunteer crews usually only work in the woods during the fall, in 1998 there were workdays once a month throughout the late spring and summer, along with a few more in the fall. And while work crews usually only use hand tools like loppers, saws and scythes, that year professionals with chain saws worked with us.
It was hard work, but by the time the next winter arrived we once again had numerous tree runs open for skiing. Other parts of the woods were marked off for several years, to allow lively young trees to establish themselves. And in subsequent years we continued working in the fall to reclaim tree runs. Today, the only sign of that ice storm is a more vibrant forest, with many ski runs through the trees.
The past four years have revealed many weak and diseased aspects of our country. We’ve seen corruption running rampant through many parts of the public and private sector. We’ve seen widespread incompetence in dealing with a deadly pandemic. We’ve seen inept or corrupt police act cruelly and often fatally against blacks and other groups they didn’t respect or care for. We’ve seen wealth and power diverge so greatly among citizens that it is breaking society apart. And we’ve seen the environment damaged to such an extent that natural disasters have become common and the climate itself has begun to change.
We have lived through a very difficult time over the past four years. Those in charge did a lot of damage and many people were hurt in one way or another. But the administration that was a main cause of much of that trouble is now gone.
As we move forward, we can find hope in the knowledge that just as the forest at Mad River Glen has been renewed, in time we can move beyond all of the negativity and destruction. We now have an opportunity to revitalize our country and to address the many flaws and weaknesses recently exposed. With a lot of hard work, we can change or replace our failing institutions with vibrant ones that better serve the people in general rather than just those at the top.
Now it’s time to get down to work and clean this mess up.