My maternal grandfather was born with perfect pitch and a remarkable tenor singing voice. As for the other half of my genetic makeup, which I inherited — not so much. When my children were young, I made them take piano lessons. My explanation when they complained about practice, which they did constantly and vigorously, was that making music was magical, or as close as we would get in this life, and that they needed the background just in case they too had the ability to create such magic.
It is very hard for me, a cold-hearted, pragmatic farmer, to believe that there is the possibility of magic in our lives. Dancing around a buried elk antler at midnight on the summer solstice won’t affect my crops at all. Proper seed choice, soil samples and judicious application of fertilizer along with some timely rains, coupled with decent equipment, will produce a good crop.
And yet, there is the music thing I used to tell my children about. For me, the ability to arrange sounds so that the result is music is a mysterious, magical undertaking. So I’ve somewhat seriously developed a guide — call it the grumpy farmer’s guide — to finding magic in life.
Number one: It takes hard work. A good friend, Jon, visited me last summer and only had time for one hike in Glacier Park. I knew he was a strong hiker, so I recommended the Dawson Pass to Pitamakan Pass loop out of Two Medicine, a 17-mile hike. Upon his return, he told me that the view toward Mount Stimson was so overwhelming that he was moved to tears. I suspect that for him, the hike, and the view in particular, was a magical experience that he will never forget.
Number two: It takes training and perseverance. For years, my downhill skiing experience was one of barely suppressed terror as I hurtled down the mountain on the verge of disaster at every turn. After many lessons and countless hours of practice, I learned to ski well enough to ski any terrain at whatever speed I desired. Achieving this level of expertise elevated skiing to a magical level for me. Fresh tracks in knee-deep powder is my heaven on earth, and making perfectly carved turns on a groomed slope isn’t far behind. I never would have known that if I hadn’t taken the lessons and persevered with the practice.
Number three: It might be a solitary, unique experience. When I describe my skiing experience to my wife, who detests both snow and cold and cannot fathom why anyone would engage in a pastime that embraces both, she thinks I’m stark raving mad. But she realizes that it’s magic for me and tries hard to smile even on the weeks when I spend five out of seven days on the hill.
Number four: You have to do something. It seems highly unlikely that sitting in a chair and watching TV would ever lead to moments of magic. Quite the contrary, it drains the ability to experience magic by substituting mind-numbing voyeuristic pseudo thrills for the real thing. Not all magical moments require physical activity. Attending a concert has magical potential, but even that requires you to a get yourself to the venue.
Number five: It depends upon choice, so choose to shut off the TV, get off the couch and experience life.