November 4, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield
Collapsing Under the Weight of Innocense
St. George is known for extreme heat. But the last two years (ironically since we opened the new studio here) the weather has been “unusually cool.”
This year in early September, you could feel the weather change from very hot to cool almost instantly. It reminded me of an incredible experience that happened in Denver Colorado in the 1990s. Once September hits in Colorado, all bets are off on the weather.
I don’t remember the year, but I remember we were living in an apartment just off of Peoria St in Aurora, Colorado. And in this particular year, before we had a chance to get used to the idea of fall, we were hit with a snow storm.
After a long day of snow, I remember walking outside in the evening and standing near the parking lot where only weeks earlier it had been nearly 100 degrees outside. Although I generally do not like snow, there is something about being outside at night just after a snowstorm that I love. The remnants of miniature water crystals in the air, sparkling in the street lights. The untouched waves of white powder on the ground. The drifts against buildings. But more than anything I love the quiet.
Snow has a sound absorbing effect. And when you stand outside at night after a big storm, it is silent. There is a peace that you can’t really find anywhere else. So I stood outside of a few moments just to enjoy it.
But something happened this time I had never experienced before. In the middle of the silence there was a crack! Having a chopped a few trees in my life and cut wood, it was the unmistakable sound of a wood cracking. I turned to see where the sound was coming from as I watched a massive branch drop from a tree through other branches and then thud on the ground in an explosion of powdery snow.
And then silence again.
And a moment later I heard it again from another direction. And then again a few moments after that. And all night long in our apartment that was surrounded by trees we heard the noise of trees cracking and collapsing.
Because it was so early in September, the trees hadn’t had a chance to lose their leaves. The leaves had only barely started to turn. So instead of the snow falling through the brances, the snow built up on the branches. Tiny flake after tiny flake the snow piled on the trees. The weight built up so much that the branches couldn’t take it.
Trees are designed to endure incredible assaults of wind and water, but they aren’t designed to hold weight.
The next morning as the sun came out, Denver looked like a battle zone. The property around the apartment was covered in broken branches and leaves. Trees across the city were broken, streets blocked by massive branches and pieces of trees that had succumbed to the pressure and found a resting place on the road. Trees that had stood for decades had been torn apart, many we so damaged that they had to be cut down. Snow plows couldn’t get into many streets now blocked by massive branches. Chainsaws and big trucks could be heard around the city as people tried to clean up the mess.
I have thought about that night many times. Not just because it was so unusual, but because of what caused it.
Is there anything more innocent than a snowflake? We catch them on our tongues, we cut them out of paper, they are associated with a Christmas and Santa.
But they are deadly.
These innocent tiny little pieces of shimmering ice brought down seemingly indestructible trees. Many times in my life I have tried to cut wood with a handsaw, and a simple piece of pine, especially if it isn’t dry, can leave your arm feeling numb. Without a chainsaw, cutting a tree down can be a massive undertaking. But amazingly, snow flakes, piled one by one can rip a tree apart.
I have often thought about the subtle message here.
When you look at your life and consider your dreams, your ambitions and the associated goals, it’s the small things that get in your way. Tiny moments of procrastination and distraction build up over time. When you consider your personal relationships or even you career, failure is rarely the result of some big issue, it’s usually the result of untold snowflakes that pile on day after day. When we see a chain saw coming at us, we recognize the threat and protect ourselves. But we don’t see snowflakes as a threat. We don’t fear the tiny distractions in our lives any more than we fear the shiny, small and innocent snowflake.
And that’s really the problem.
Snowflakes are difficult to spot because they don’t look dangerous. Quite the contrary, they look perfectly innocent and inviting. So it’s critical that we are keenly aware of how we spend our time. A few minutes lost every day add up to lost years over your lifetime.
I shared this experience in formal presentations over the years, but it resonates more today than ever. The older I get the more I sense my mortality and the more I fear wasting time. The more I fear losing my life to snowflakes.