Simple needs

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(HOST) While his power was out this week, commentator David Moats was reminded of some lessons he learned from his father about the simplicities of life.

(MOATS) I was thinking about the last time I went camping with my father. He was about 66 years old and newly retired, and we were in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, a few dozen miles from where he was born.

He was there with a couple of sons, a son-in-law and a couple of grandsons – his granddaughter would have been there, too, if she had been a little older. Three of us climbed one of the high peaks one day, and my father stayed back at camp with the two little boys. He was happy to do so.

One morning I remember waking in the icy cold, and he was al- ready up, tending to the fire, heating up the water. There, beneath a towering peak beside a pristine lake with his offspring all around him, he seemed absolutely happy, with a simplicity that was al- most Buddhistic.

The simplicity of life, while camping, was something that he taught us. There are a few simple imperatives. Wood, water, food. Flat space for sleeping bags. A place apart for sanitation.

We learned to tend to our tasks almost automatically, wordlessly. We gained an appreciation of what it took to be alive. It’s a primi- tive way of living and not a way we choose to live all the time. But it’s honest and simple.

I got home from a short trip the other night, and I found out that I, along with thousands of others, had lost electric power in the re- cent snow storm. It made me realize the ways we are never far removed from the primitive demands of life at its most elemental.

Electricity allows us to forget our primitive needs. But without electricity there’s no water, no light, no heat. There’s no cooking. We are quickly stripped bare of the protective infrastructure of civilization that differentiates us from what we call – the Third World.

I lived in the Third World for a couple of years, and electricity came on only every other night. The rest of the time we read by the light of kerosene lamps, which was something I was doing the other night when the power was off at home.

When I was abroad, we bathed in water that came into the house- hold from a ditch that ran from house to house beside the road. It was not good water, and if you drank it, you were bound to become sick. But it was the water we had, and there wasn’t anything we could do about it except boiling it before we drank it.

We’re all vulnerable to the circumstances that might have us hovering above a fire to keep warm or looking for clean water to drink – like the people of Pakistan or Louisiana or Florida. Our October snow storm reminded us of that.

Luckily, my father showed us a way to appreciate the simplicities of life, there at the edge of a lake up in the Sawtooth Mountains.

We also learned to appreciate the pleasure of a warm shower, which, after our outage this week, I was looking forward to.

This is David Moats from Salisbury.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He spoke from studios at Middlebury College.

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