Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Good Comfortable Road Until Compelled to Believe Otherwise

Last summer my wife and I, together with our children and my parents and two guides, did a week-long canoe trip down a wild and scenic stretch of the Missouri River in Montana. One day, we saw a couple of day-trippers on the river. The rest of the week there were no people, no cars, no electronic devices, and thanks to the guides, no meal planning, prep, or clean-up. We were following the route taken by William Clark and Meriwether Lewis in their exploration from 1804-1806, which gave us an excuse to sample some of their journals. At one campsite, we were near the place where Clark wrote in his journal a bit of philosophy that I've been mulling over as I seek to appreciate my blessings fully during this holiday season. Clark wrote:  

"[A]s I have always held it little Short of criminality to anticipate evils I will allow it to be a good comfortable road untill I am compelled to beleive otherwise." 

The full story is that the expedition had stopped what they called Bullwhacker Creek, and Clark climbed up the nearest hill and saw snow-capped mountains in the distance. He (mistakenly) thought they were the Rocky Mountains, and ruminated in his diary entry of May 26, 1805, about the joy of being so close to reaching the mountains and the knowledge of hardships yet to come. Here's a fuller quotation: 

"I crossed a Deep holler and assended a part of the plain elivated much higher than where I first viewed the above Mountains; from this point I beheld the Rocky Mountains for the first time with certainty, I could only discover a fiew of the most elivated points above the horizon, the most remarkable of which by my pocket compas I found bore S. 60 W. those points of the rocky Mountain were covered with Snow and the Sun Shown on it in such a manner as to give me a most plain and satisfactory view. whilst I viewed these mountains I felt a secret pleasure in finding myself so near the head of the heretofore conceived boundless Missouri; but when I reflected on the difficulties which this snowey barrier would most probably throw in my way to the Pacific Ocean, and the sufferings and hardships of my self and part in them, it in some measure counter ballanced the joy I had felt in the first moments in which I gazed on them; but as I have always held it little Short of criminality to anticipate evils I will allow it to be a good comfortable road untill I am compelled to beleive otherwise."

I'm not much of a spiritual person, perhaps even less so than your average economist. But I do think that it is easy to spend an inordinate amount of one's time counting up problems and slights and injustices, past, present and future. In comparison, it requires (at least for me) some discipline and effort to count one's blessings. But the blessings matter more. I hope this holiday season and the year to come can feel like a good comfortable road for you.