Sometimes, the only way to learn is to fuck it up and have to deal with the mess after. This, I think, is the origin of the phrase, "common sense." It's common to fuck up. Usually not dangerously. Usually just enough to be extremely inconvenient. And maybe a little cold.

My grandparents had a cabin way out in the boonies in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. A large, cedar-clad A-frame with a wrap-around deck. The great floor to ceiling windows on the Southern side looked out over the trees into a ravine which housed a spring-fed pond, stocked full of rainbow trout all Summer long. Sure, there was the occasional bear on the deck looking in at all the little human morsels packed into the two hide-a-bed sofas on the other side of that thin glass. Sure there was the occasional four-wheeler you almost flipped or drove off a cliff, but the real magic happened in Winter.

The cabin was part of a secluded collection of similar properties. There were roughly maintained trails to get vehicles through in the summer, but in the winter, you could only drive to the Lodge. The Lodge was a bar / restaurant / general store / small hotel that sat at the entrance to the trails. From there, you had to load up your stuff (food, clothing, etc) onto sleds and pull them to the cabins via snowmobile. There's snow in all directions, drifts over your head. The trails were maintained to a degree, but if there was a heavy snow, things could be a little slow going. In the end, though, the the view of snow-covered mountains in the distance and the sparking fresh powder snow was worth the effort.

We would ride snowmobiles, have snowball fights, drink hot cocoa, stay warm by the fire, and relish in our winter paradise. Oh. I forgot to mention the sledding. Hills and valleys and fresh snow galore made for the most excellent sledding. We would drag the sleds to the best, smoothest, most varied spots and just fly down the hills.

This was normally done with some supervision, but as we got older, we were more and more often left to our own devices. One day–I was eleven or twelve–my brother and older cousins decided we should sled down the ravine to the (now frozen) pond. The trail down was steep. Steep enough we often called it Death Hill, because it always felt like the four-wheelers were going to flip over on the way up and down it. Maybe this should have been a clue, but off we went down Death Hill anyway.

As we raced down the mountain, we were flying. Sometimes literally as we bounded over high spots. the trail was narrow and had several switchbacks to facilitate vehicles getting up and down to the pond. So we raced each leg, careful not to plow into the trees just beyond the corners. All in all, we had great fun for the fifteen or so minutes it took us to reach the bottom. Tired, and laughing uncontrollably, we took a small respite on some rocks before we started back toward home.

It didn't take long for us to realize the error of our own wild ways. We radioed up to the cabin to tell the adults (my parents, aunts, and uncles) of our predicament. A couple came down to the pond on snowmobiles. Instead of being there to help, they were at first relieved that we were all okay, and then angry that we had been so foolish. It was dangerous and irresponsible, no doubt. Any one of us could have easily been hurt by an errant tree, rock, or losing control down this steep grade. No, indeed, they were not there to help; rather, they were there to make sure we were okay and safe on the long, arduous trek back up the ravine, sleds in tow. What took fifteen minutes to go down, took hours to go up. Snow often up to our knees, sometimes up to our waists, not solid enough to stand on meant rather than walking (or crawling) back up, it was more like digging our way back up to the packed snow of the maintained trails.

After we made it back, our parents helped us get out of our wet, cold clothes; had a fire going and ready; and some hot food to help us warm up. They didn't say much. They didn't have to. We knew, then, maybe it's best to consider the whole of a plan before just diving into the fun part. Everything has consequences. Sometimes they're worth it, sometimes they aren't, but now we all knew: Be sure of what lies on the other side of a decision and make sure you're ready to deal with it when you get there. If you aren't, maybe don't fly down that hill just yet.

That's not to say that taking risks is always bad. Sometimes you don't know what's next. And sometimes you don't have a choice. These things all happen. Life is messy. What's more important is to at least be mindful of the choices, and its possible consequences, and if possible, prepare for the outcomes. I know this isn't profound wisdom, but it's something that guides how I do a lot of things in my life. And it's something I think back on frequently because it keeps me grounded and mindful of thinking through what comes next. I'm not always successful, of course. Sometimes I'm at the bottom of yet another proverbial hill, after taking a foolhardy leap. But in the worst moments, I think back to little me struggling through the snow, and it gives me a brief smile as I go back to digging myself back up to solid trails.