…I see the evergreen
looming on the next ridge.
I see them fade south
until they merge
with the morning sky.
-Floyd Skloot, “In the Coast Range”
My first thoughts returning to Oregon after an absence I understand now was far, far too long, was how much things had changed. After four days of hiking in the forests around the Columbia River Gorge I realize that while my initial reaction wasn’t untrue, it was also, like so many first reactions, incomplete.
Sure the area around Powell’s Books has been polished by the gentrifying brush of time, and yes, when my wife and I visited our alma mater they’d picked up and moved the historical chapel where we’d gotten married to make room for a new library, but at its core Powell’s still sells used books and the nostalgia of being on Pacific University’s campus with my wife still quickened my pulse.
Things change, and that’s a truth that we’re wise to accept, but it’s not something to be afraid of, nor is it the complete story.
Because at the same time buildings get fresh paint or even new locations, so very much of the world moves at a different speed. Oregon reminded me of that this week.
On our first day in the Gorge we hiked through the verdant forests near Cascade Locks. I may have been fooling myself, fools like me sometimes do, but I swear I remember some of the same majestic trees and rock formations along the trail, their moss as familiar as it was when my wife and I lived in Hood River two decades ago and hiked these same trails religiously.
In the past twenty years, a geological blip, the landscape seemed to have inhaled once and exhaled once again, but not much more. In that time I’ve become a father, moved from teacher to principal, gained cats, lost hair, and only vaguely resemble the twenty five year old I was when I last hiked here.
Nature sees time differently, on its own terms. Always changing, it appears not to change. Fellows like me, not so.
This lesson in perspective was helpful for me as an educator; mine is a profession where the immediate can present itself as more important than the longer term. As a principal it’s all too easy to see how a simple appeasal might make for a smoother afternoon, though it could mean the mistake of ignoring the compass that will guide us where we need to go.
Tromping these trails, a speck beneath the soaring conifers, no more significant to Mt. Hood than a deer, or a squirrel, or a stone, reminded me that the most meaningful realities aren’t realized in a moment, or a day, or a year. Our decisions matter, and matter profoundly, but our strength comes from seeing our work in the broader scope.
For me this means thinking about what’s good for students now, students next year, and our school farther into the future.
It means building programs, nurturing culture, and planting the seeds of ideas with the resources of today and the vision for tomorrow.
The lesson isn’t new, or particular to education.
Hanging in our living room is a painting by an Oregonian artist, Beverly Hallberg. Titled “Fallow Field,” the image shows a landscape familiar to the rural sensibility of my youth. We bought the painting a lifetime ago, moved by the colors and feeling, and the painting’s ability to capture the spirit of a particular time and place. In that painting is a reminder that wise farmer’s knew that managing their land meant leaving fields fallow for a season, creating the opportunity for a richer harvest in the long term.
Where to plant and where to allow a fallow field is a part of every principal’s work, a lesson brought home by this week of spending so much time in nature. I’ll think about that perspective as I return to my office in the next few days, the memory of hiking amid the trees “looming on the next ridge” fresh in my mind. And in the hurly burly of the school year, I’ll strive to balance the moment’s immediate needs with the greater, grander perspective.