A Walk In The Woods: A Reflection on the Inevitability of Change

A Walk In The Woods: A Reflection on the Inevitability of Change

A couple of years back I gave myself a two-week break. Being a lover of all things outdoors, I decided to spend some time in nature, so I took a hike in northern New Mexico: a grueling, two-week, pack it in, pack it out, everything on your back kind of hike. Being a CPA-Attorney, who, like all attorneys when not meeting with clients, are relegated to a chair staring at a computer with only occasional digital representations of what some photographer classified as “wilderness.” The prospect of a nonstop two-week hike posed a significant challenge. Having been completely indoctrinated into the ideals of Scouting, I had thoroughly prepared, spending months with a trainer to handle the physical challenge.

I was familiar with the area, having taken short day hikes with my family in times past, but a two-week march through constantly changing terrain is another thing entirely. If you have never experienced the New Mexico version of nature, I highly recommend it. From beautiful desert places and pristine forests to muddy streams and burned-out hillsides where mother nature displayed her wrath, New Mexico’s wilderness presents a perfect metaphor for life itself. Even the hike spoke volumes as a reflection of my experience working with families over the years.

Maybe it’s the fact that I never really want to be separated very long from the work that I love. Maybe it’s because I was able to get a cell connection with the office every now and then, but when one works in tax and estate planning for over 30 years even the intoxicating effect of nature gives way occasionally to reflections with professional themes. I came to discover that in nature, even the things that seem static—things that have been around for literally millions of years—are actually constantly changing. A sudden downpour turns a dried-out creek into a torrent. Sounds that one might otherwise ignore take on an all new meaning, especially at sunrise and sunset. The simplest things that people often take for granted are subject to destruction and rebirth in nature, sometimes in cycles and sometimes unexpectedly.

My group’s hike came across a butte affectionately known in the area as the “tooth of time.” It’s a powerful edifice to be sure; regal in its character. Its cliff face stands in stubborn opposition to the forces of nature. In spite of the march of time, the encroachment and recession of the neighboring trees, the brutal wrath of the blazing sunny days and chilly nights, and every threat nature can pour out appeared that it would have none of it. As the trail winds around to the opposite side, the presence of boulders and rubble tell another story. The poor old tooth, stubborn as it is, is not impervious to time; to change.

That is the nature of nature. That is the nature of life. The hard working, the innovative, the courageous, the lucky, and the entrepreneurs that build legacies for the benefit of future generations, while well intentioned, can still suffer the effects of changes caused by a whole host of issues. Causes and efforts to perpetually fund projects can sometimes be threatened by factors that had seemed insignificant at their inception. The resulting change does not have to be bad or devastating. Change can be a good thing when properly planned for. Nature’s changes are often balanced. The destruction in one place can many times lead to a positive change in another. The rebirth of an area previously effected can bring a hardier, more productive environment. A family that plans ahead can empower future generations to better weather the effects of economic and political pressures. Those who then emerge from economic pressures can be better equipped to foster new innovations and new entrepreneurial enterprises for a stronger, more stable position as a family or as a community. 

The trail is not always easy. The path is not always clear. However, with proper planning and preparation, the effect of unexpected events can be softened. Directed planning by experienced professionals who are trained to anticipate the kinds of life changing events that might otherwise chip away at one's legacy, can shield and strengthen the next generation to set new goals that honor those that came before them.

As we left that old "Tooth of Time," slowly crumbling, but proud, I think we all carried with us a healthy respect for nature. One has to be touched by the relentless progression of the cycles life presents, and the rejuvenation that always follows. I returned to my clients and my desk with perhaps a refreshed perspective. The digital "wilderness" that my computer screen flashes now represents real places: real experiences that I have, in some small way preserved myself. I am proud to do the same for my clients each time I help them to plan and protect their future, and to preserve their legacy.

Jayne Corley and her husband Emery are long time scouters, having worked many years helping children and young adults discover and appreciate the outdoors and the merits of being prepared. Jayne is a CPA and an Attorney licensed in Missouri and Illinois. Jayne practices in tax and estate planning with Stock Legal in the Central West End, St. Louis and the surrounding area.

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