This week, many in the northwest wilderness and skiing communities are mourning the loss of local winter enthusiast Morgan Miller. While not a direct connection, the impact on mutual friends, and the rescuers who located and carried out his body, is quite apparent in conversations and across social media platforms.
The Seattle Times Article is a touching tribute to Morgan and offers a glimpse into who he was for those of us who were not fortunate enough to know him personally.
What strikes a cord for many is how his girlfriend talks about his passions and choices:
“His joy for being in these environments was so honest, even if we were sitting on the porch drinking coffee watching the sunrise… These are the risks we’re willing to take. He played within his ability and was quite conservative in doing everything he did, but you can make the most conservative decision and things can still happen. … that’s just the life we live.”
Facing your own mortality can be a sobering endeavor. Whatever the reminder, the fact that this life is a temporary gift is something we tend to not dwell upon but are often forced to remember, especially at times like this. It is easy to armchair quarterback tragedies in the wilderness, pointing out group error and poor decision making as common factors. We shake our heads at risk takers and thrill seekers and comment that it’s “just a matter of time” without really meaning it, then think “I told you so” when tragedy does strike. Yet risk exists everywhere, whether we acknowledge it or not.
In the above quote, Morgan is described as conservative and playing within his abilities. Any of us checking the avy conditions that day would have likely made the same call and gone out–moderate risk in winter is usually a “go” for winter adventurers as most days dance around high and extreme levels and a moderate day feels like a blessing. It feels as though any of us standing in Morgan’s shoes would have made the same decision. Thus looms the question, how many of us realize that the day we go out just like any other may be our last?
That’s where the sobering nature of this story hits close to home. How many of us live for the mountains? Who are involved in a deeply personal and spiritual relationship with nature and the soul of the hills? “The mountains are calling and I must go,” attributed to John Muir, captures the undeniable pull many of us feel to reconnect with that which is greater than us. Yet with each call, we know we might not come back. Maybe we don’t think about it each time, or perhaps it’s a soft voice that we easily dismiss as we set out on each new adventure. However we experience it, the knowledge of our mortality is there on some level. Yet we choose to go, time and again.
So what can we do? Many parents have said that they changed their behaviors and took less chances once their children were born. Others lose a friend or loved one and swear off the mountains as a result. Yet many keep going, perhaps because they are in denial, or perhaps because they know the risk and have accepted it.
We plan to come back, we hope to always be able to go out again, and we try to live out the adventure we are called to. In the process, the hope is that we live a legacy like Morgan. We embrace the outdoors and leave no doubt in the minds of those around us that we love what we do and are filled with joy each day that we are blessed to climb, to ski, to swim, to bike, to run… and on top of that, the hope beyond all else is that we live every day being open and kind to those around us, never leaving unsaid how much people mean to us, and trying to limit the hurts and bad memories that we don’t want to outlive us. When the mountains call their final call and we do not return in this life, may it be that our love and passion shines brightly as a comforting beacon for those who suffer at being left behind.
May we continue to take chances, may we mitigate the risks wherever we can, and may we continue to return home safely to those who wait for us. And may we always fill our days with love and endless joie de vivre!
A toast to Morgan. A life gone too soon, and a legacy we should all be so lucky to live.