I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. – “Walden: Where I Lived, What I Lived For” – Henry David Thoreau
Zest for life is more than about being active. It’s about sucking the marrow from life. Like the small utensil used on a lemon or orange rind, a zester peels away life’s tangy, zesty aspects that tantalize the senses. The zester savors experiences by immersing him/herself completely into the activity or task at hand. No holding back.
The zester hasn’t lost the ability to frolic. He/she separates from the humdrum, finding life among robotic masses that need to get busy to relax and have fun unsatisfactory. Theirs is the tamed world, the groomed run, the road well-traveled, and the tried-and-true, places alien to zesters.
Hans Berg was a zester. He had a passion and vitality for life. He did not reflexively breathe but, instead, consciously inhaled each breath deeply and completely, to fully feel the sensation of the life-sustaining oxygen inflating his lungs.
At the beginning of this Age of Materialism in which want and desire have come to replace need, Thoreau already comprehended the debasing, dehumanizing dark side of consumerism. The mass of people, he said, are wont to “lead lives of desperation.”
“Our life is frittered away by detail,” he writes. To address it, he extols us to “simplify, simplify.”
Place was critical to Thoreau. “What do we want most to dwell near to?” he wonders.
“To the perennial source of our life, as the willow stands near the water and sends out its roots in that direction. This is the place where a wise man will dig his cellar.”
Clear Creek, high in the mountains with ranging summits, cavernous descents, cascading creeks, wild flowers and lichen, and an abundance of diverse wildlife, bears, bighorns, and more, is the perennial source of our life. It’s the reason we, like Hans, opt to live up here and not join the herds sometimes zipping, oftentimes crawling, mooing along the I-70 gauntlet in ritualistic mass migrations to and from the city.
My engagements with Hans were few, but one needed to meet Hans once for him to be ingrained in one’s consciousness. In those times, I quickly realized an indomitable spirit who came to Clear Creek because he wished to live, like Thoreau, simply and deliberately, not wishing “to live what was not life, living is so dear.”
Empire was the fertile field where Hans repotted himself. From there, his roots grew. I suspect that’s the reason he took on the mission to preserve the open-space expanse in the face of gravel-pitting. He understood he was part of the land and one day would completely return to it.
I suspect too Hans wondered how he could be so blessed to live among so many fellow zesty friends and neighbors. And now we grieve for our loss.
Han’s passing has left a gaping hole, an unfillable void in our soul. Yet I believe he wouldn’t want us to mourn his parting but, rather, celebrate and offer gratitude to God, the Universe, or whatever eternal source one believes in for him being part of us: The Empire and greater Clear Creek community. For because of Hans, knew him or not, we are much, much better.
Thanks, Hans, for teaching us how to live life fully. You were a gift and remain a treasure. RIP.
A Celebration of Han’s Life will be this Saturday, March 30, from 11:00 – 5:00 at the white church in Empire, 160 E. Park Avenue. Feel free to bring a dish. All are welcome.