This past May I experienced the great happiness of attending my Princeton, Class of 1959, 50th Reunion. This feeling comes not just from the pleasure of being still around to take part in the festivities – and in good health too… but also because of the opportunity it offered to reflect on my life up to this time. In other words, to anwser that age-old question: How Did I Get To Here?
The Essay below , written for the Yearbook, answers that question. It’s all about taking risks, plus the great opportunities — and huge rewards – that can come to us if we do so.
Life, the Journey
Sure, it’s a cliche; but that’s only because it’s so true. It has certainly been so in my own life. The important thing I have learned is to just set out – begin it.
Just go – take a direction not fully planned out… walk down a path that seems interesting to you. I have, and I have been constantly amazed at what always happens next: new people, new ideas, and new opportunities never imagined before.
I think I first learned the power of these truths during my years at Princeton. It was a very big risk, for me – the first of my family to ever leave Columbus — to even go there at all, on this my first ‘journey.’ Especially since “there” meant not just the University, but The Whole Thing: the East Coast, that “Teeming East,” as I called it. All those people and all those cities, all those cars whizzing about on newfangled roads called “freeways.”
And all these new experiences and people and ideas played out against that stunning backdrop of Princeton’s storybook campus… for me, a place that just exuded learning and new possibilities at every turn.
The pattern once understood, other new journeys, mostly unplanned, came in rapid succession. Right after graduation, always having wanted to ‘see the world’ but not having the wherewithal, I found a job as an engineboy on a Norwegian tramp steamer, bound for India. Four months among the hissing boilers, but also four months to daydream about my future… in places like the Euphrates, Bombay, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Mozambique… all dreamt about, pondered, while wandering in awe across the wild and beautiful open oceans of this planet.
Returning home too late to rejoin the law school which had accepted me, my pink draft notice was waiting. It was the depth of the Cold War; my time had come to be a soldier. I enlisted in the Marine Corps, an experience which produced unexpected new rewards, by teaching me new lessons about my capacity to endure hardships and stresses, at places like Parris Island and Camp Lejeune.
Later, I was able to get back into law school… certainly rather wiser than in my Princeton years. Now my future was set, I thought: no more wandering, I am going to settle down.
But it didn’t happen that way, either. Because I really didn’t much like law school, my choice for a job the following summer was at a hotel in a far-away place, Glacier National Park. This Midwestern boy thought it was in Alaska!
This turned out to be the journey that really did change my life… one which set me on an entirely different course. It opened up even vaster possibilities for both future challenges and greater happiness. How? Because from the moment I stepped off the train, stunned by the vision of the great peaks rising straight out of the prairies, I became aware of a passion for magnificence in wild nature. It was as if some old lost chord had been plucked inside of me, saying that this was my land and I must live out here, somewhere.
From that moment came everything that was to follow: a move to Seattle after law school, a law practice. But I was really there for the country; and so began years of wandering, exploring, in the splendid wildernesses all around.
Sadly, it was not very long before there came a growing awareness that these wild and beautiful places that I loved were being damaged, destroyed – by the unsustainable logging of the times.
And from that realization came my life’s best decision: that I would give all the rest of it to try to right these wrongs, to protect these beautiful parts of our heritage. This required leaving my law practice, and to begin working for conservation groups (like the Sierra Cub) for a pittance – although the ‘psychic income’ was huge.
And it came to mean constant travels everywhere, organizing, speaking out, standing up for what I believed… finally living in Washington – to lobby and testify in the place (Congress) where the fates of what I loved were being decided. Since that decision, there have been campaigns and battles, victories and setbacks, now almost beyond count.But I have never looked back since that choice made so long ago. It has been a most joyful experience; and I have never been happier about anything (except a great marriage and great kids/grandkids) than this, my life’s work. It has been a great journey.