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Exercise 1b: Writing and the Environment

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The four summers I spent tree-planting were the closest I have been to nature in my adult life. I grew up on an acreage in small-town Saskatchewan but moved away at age 14 and have lived in a town or city ever since. In a way, the summers were an escape to a place that had the simplicity of my early years, but the location was more expansive and rugged and the work was backbreaking.
It was a situation that no one could remain detached from, it required you to fully engage in the work at hand to make it through the long days. Being piecework, it also required motivation and determination to make the time at work a profitable one. Many young college students would come out hoping to make amazing money only to run into the harsh reality that they simply didn't have what it takes, mentally and physically, to do well at the job.
But it wasn't all grueling labor, there was a great sense of camaraderie between coworkers. It was a struggle, but it was a struggle that we all shared. And then, of course, there were the moments when the setting commanded your attention; when the work and the worries would melt away in the face of some natural beauty. Waterfalls, rushing rivers, massive oak trees and, at times, the most profound isolation.
It is these times that stick with me when I think about those summers. Somehow by a trick of selective memory, all the toil and pain and lost wages melt away and you are left with some of the deepest friendships and profound encounters with the natural world.
My encounter with the moose is one of those memories that can't be easily summarized. It was not simply terror that I felt, nor complete awe at the power of the beast although I did feel these things. It was something else that is harder to describe. It was a moment where I was pulled out of myself. All of the day to day thoughts, feelings, opinions and ideas melted away and I stood before the moose as an empty shell. The moose, myself and the space in between us were the only thing that existed in that moment.
If there is one thing that this experience taught me, it's that I'm not alone in this world. There are forces greater and smaller than me that are continually in tension. My personal narrative may only be a tiny blip in the larger story, but it is a story that I am connected to and must be engaged in.

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