Denver Bar Association
June 2010
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Trail Building

by Justice Greg Hobbs

This essay on service and leadership is adapted from a talk Justice Hobbs first gave to a group of trail crew volunteers at the Philmont Scout Ranch, Cimarron, New Mexico.

You are here to build a trail.

To each of you, congratulations! Your future is generated by the choices you make every moment of your life. Your choice will have lasting consequences for you and for others. Choose well.

You work alone and with others to forge a way that others might follow. Take joy in the knowledge that those who follow may not know your names. Be proud of the fact that no trail markers will display accolades to your work. Derive great satisfaction from realizing you will not complete the job. Others must carry the work forward.

These are the hallmarks of those who serve for the sake of service. You need no individual recognition. You will seek no accolades. You do not question leaving completion of the work to others. Why? Because in giving you cannot lose. What you give comes back. When you help to build a trail for others, they shall lead you on.

Hobbs with law clerks

Justice Greg Hobbs helps build the trails for law clerks Amy Petri-Beard, Alison Flint, and Christie Henke and vice versa. The support staff is often the foundation in any part of the legal system.

No serviceable trail is the work of one person. Each length builds on the insight and labors of others. Thomas Jefferson’s work for liberty and religious freedom was founded on the writings and hard experience of persons who were persecuted for not adhering to paths chosen for them.

Always you will build on the foresight of others. Every trail is blazed by a vision of where the trail might lead. Years from now, others will stop on that switch back you have contoured and forged; will breathe deeply and feel the spirit stretch through every cell of their being, from brow to heel. You’ll be there underfoot. They will see for you. They will climb to where aspen meet the spruce, as trail leads on to trail, as the peaks of the Great Divide give way to the great havens of the lordly sky. You will be on their way.

The idea of a good trail isn’t about getting from here to there as fast as possible. Your trail wisely contours through life zones. A man or woman can’t take a mountain straight on. Approach patiently. Enjoy each valley, foothill, ridge, each tributary stream. Every peak is preceded by one of the life zones. Every life zone has its own habitat, moment, and rhythm.

 Greg and Bobbie Hobbs  Greg and Bobbie Hobbs at their 41st anniversary
Greg with his wife Bobbie at Peace Corps training in August 1967. Greg and Bobbie celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary in 2008 on Salmon River of No Return.

When you rush through and do not accept each moment as it is, not as you want it to be, you may miss hearing the voice of your existence. Your unique talent and purpose in life resides at the core of your being. Listen well to what you most like to do, what brings happiness to you and others.

Life is a chance to fill our baskets with wildflowers. No man or woman designed a Columbine. You and I will never accomplish any work that compares to such brilliance. But the paths we work help us see how these transplanted stars of the heavens come to appear on the shoulders of mountains.

Albert Einstein looked into nature and the universe and invented nothing that did not exist. His trail blazing consisted of observing, understanding, and breaking through ill-conceived judgments of aspiring experts and religious leaders—whose viewpoint stopped short of the Universe. Insight was his contribution.

May the paths we build be of sufficient width and grade for the sharing of sights and insights that lift understanding, and the spirit, and do not constrain our fellow men and women.

And what of fellow trail builders? Each with his or her own unique talent and purpose in life — like the Columbine they are. To judge their shape and merit as compared to our own is to belittle them, ourselves, and the universe. By freeing ourselves from judging others, letting go of the fear that we do not match another’s talent in some respect, we develop our own art to its full and unique potential.

Every work of art is forged in the fire of vision, hammered on the anvil of revision, finished by one’s golden touch. Envy not. Fear not. Admire the art of others.

Trail songs elevate your labor. Listen well to the music that brings you joy. One who sings catches a chord of the many chords and variations of harmony. In trail building, there is song and work enough for all, and none need feel he or she may fail. Fear of failure seizes up the muscles of the mind. Like truth speaking, self confidence is hard-won, a daily habit to be practiced again and again.

Greg Hobbs, 1963

Greg admires the mountain view while he worked as a Philmont Scout Ranch Ranger in 1963.

Turning outward to the world, turning inward to the spirit, so like the earth around the sun, you orbit through the days and the years, no trail a straight line on a map, one foot after another, moment-by-moment, uncertainty by uncertainty, each new field a field of possibility, and the stars climb down from heaven to plant themselves as columbines on the shoulders of your mountain.

Let me speak, finally, of obstacles on the trail. You have planned well, used the tools available, trained yourself, worked hard, have the best intentions. You think you know the direction you want to travel. You have carefully calculated the trip miles and the travel time. Your backpack is loaded up with all the right choices.

Then the storm hits and a rock slide threatens to obliterate the way. In a flash, your careful attention to detail, all the arrangements you have made, your sense of order, your ability to continue on the mark, all you think you have accomplished is washed away. What might you do?

Dig in, of course! Trails come and go. None is built to last, and each requires inevitable repair. But the art and practice of trail building shall endure, serving you as long as you may live. Beneath the toil and the turmoil of this world’s noise there’s a place of healing grace.

We are trekkers, each of us. Every step we take is consequential. For lending your hands, thank you. Because you do, you will always carry this place of grace with you, work of your heart, your homeland.


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