We have a white Christmas morning!

The street in front of my house is quiet and dark. Standing outside on my front steps, I can see a few stars faintly visible for a moment or two as gaps open and close in the overcast. A block to the East of my house, rising abruptly from the valley floor the slopes of Mount Sentinel are draped in clean, white snow, shining above the roof lines of the shadowy UM student housing structures nestled at the base of the mountain. Standing outside a few minutes ago, I could hear none of the usual ubiquitous traffic noise, or the heavy clanging and thudding of train cars coupling and uncoupling that can so often be heard when all else is silent in the valley. For those few moments, our town, the mountains around us, and the world beyond all seemed to me to be in an uncommon state of peace.

Regardless of one’s religious persuasion, or even lack thereof, this is a time of year when we tend to remember that even in what many of us experience as a life of relative comfort and freedom from want, and abundant opportunity to partake of the blessings of living in such a place as we do—even here—there are many among us who do not share in that abundance.

We all know that this time of year has become the season of self-indulgence, over-consumption, and crass commercialization, but we also manage to remember it is a season of giving and sharing beyond our friends and families. Now, I know that our town is not unique. I like to think that given the opportunity, people the world over share in a sense of common concern for each other’s well being. But what I see every day is what I know best. And I see something wonderful in our town.

I have been thinking about this for the last couple of weeks. It began for me on the day of the grand opening celebration for the new Poverello Center facility on West Broadway. I was among the throng attending the brief ceremony commemorating the event. I went, first, of course, because I thought it a worthy effort and cause. Second, several close friends of mine had been actively involved in the project from the beginning, and I wanted them to know that I was proud of them.

It turned out that there was more to it for me. Something that felt new and very special was in the air in that crowded building on the sunny December afternoon of the grand opening. I am almost hesitant to try to describe what I felt, for fear that it was just my own imagination getting away from me. But the feeling has endured now for a couple of weeks, so I am going to trust it.

I probably need to back up just a little bit here to tell you that I have spent much of my adult life engaged in activities related to conservation, particularly protection of land and water and wildlife. So, one of the first things I noticed about the new Pov was the natural light pouring in from the windows on all sides and the views those windows offered of all of public or otherwise protected lands that surround our town. Beginning many decades ago, private individuals, community groups, and public officials have worked together to protect the natural values that we are so proud of here, and enjoy so much.

I can tell you from experience that those conservation accomplishments so evident through the windows of the new Pov were not done simply to make sure we all had a place to have fun, or something nice to look at every morning. No, those things, and most conservation work that people struggle to accomplish every day, no matter where in the world they happen to be, is done because in some way, the future of humankind and of life on this Earth depends upon all of us accepting the responsibility of taking care of it in some way, rather than simply taking from it. In the end, it’s not about safeguarding our right to shoot elk, catch fish, hike, ride, camp, or float anywhere we want. It’s not about those views. In the end, when all the dots are connected, it’s about protecting the planet that sustains us.

I was thinking about that as I looked around the room on the day of the grand opening, and I saw many there who had worked on those conservation projects around our community. I saw many others who I know to be avid in their interest in the joys of the natural world who spend their lives in other ways, often in direct service to or attending to the basic human needs of others. I listened as Governor Bullock and Mayor Engen offered their thoughts on the community accomplishment now represented by that wonderful new building. When the Mayor talked about he “relentless” commitment of the volunteers who saw the project through to completion, I was filled with pride for my friends who had been involved, and for our community. But it was when the Mayor talked about his response to a question about why the building had to be in such a public and visible place that the light really went on in my aging brain.

“There is no better place for an emergency shelter and soup kitchen in Missoula, Montana, than in our gateway. There’s no better place for us to acknowledge that everyone in this community counts,” Engen replied to the questioner.

Of course, I thought, taking care of this place, this valley or this planet, doesn’t mean much to us in the long run if we don’t pay just as much attention to taking care of each other. After all, we really are in this whole thing of life on this planet together. And many, many people in our town know that, and live that truth every single day.

Which brings me back to the shared feeling in the new Poverello Center that afternoon. Did I tell you it was almost palpable? I could see it in people’s eyes. I could hear it in their voices. It was an intoxicating concoction of joy, gratitude, plain old unadulterated love, and hope for the future.

There was something symbolic in it, beyond the great accomplishment itself. It filled me with hope that I still feel, and gratitude for being able to call this place home and you who live here my friends.

It is full daylight now and still, not a single vehicle has passed on the street outside my office window since I sat down to write a couple of hours ago. Nobody on the block has gotten up yet on this Christmas morning and raced out to shovel the sidewalk. It is warm in my house. I’m listening to Christmas music. The coffee is good today. Later, Sander and Grace will come by and we will hike to the top of Sentinel in honor of the day. Then I will head off to Christmas dinner with Jenny, Winsor, Will and Iris, and their new pooch, Trigger. All is well with my little part of the world.

May the rest of this day, and the days and the year ahead be filled with just such an abiding sense of peace and hope for you and those you love.

A white Christmas indeed!









  1. yes…palpable, on all counts. Merry Christmas, everyone!

  2. Thank you, Greg, for that gift on Christmas Day!

  3. Thanks Greg!

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