At cocktail parties I have heard people claim that they have no regrets in life. In fact, after a couple of drinks, I have made those same claims. The idea being, I believe, that we should move ahead with our lives looking toward the future without worrying about a past that cannot be changed. In the hard light of the morning, I know I have regrets worth contemplating, decisions made that I wish I could change or at least tweak, perhaps changing the consequences to my family and myself. I am aware that most of these decisions were made using the best facts available at the time and with good intentions and it is only in hindsight that I roll them over in my mind, asking if I could have done better.
A different type of regret is revisiting decisions about life paths not taken. Perhaps these are not regrets, but rather a sense of curiosity about what life would have become if I had taken another road when I reached a major intersection. I am hopeful that I am following Socrates advice that; "The unexamined life is not worth living" and not burning precious time in a fruitless exercise.
In the 70s when I was in my twenties my major emphasis was to work outside in the natural world. To achieve that goal, I pursued a career fighting wildland fire. Five seasons working for California and Federal agencies, led to a position as station foreman on the beautiful Wallowa-Whitman Forest in Northeast Oregon, patrolling the area overlooking Hells Canyon of the Snake River. I loved the times alone on ridgetops and the camaraderie of fighting fires. I hated the bureaucracy.
After my fifth fire season, I chose a different path; working in agriculture, avocado orchards specifically. A decision that led to a fulfilling career as the avocado industry rapidly expanded, taking me around the world, allowing me to experience different cultures, becoming enriched by friends who helped me cultivate a new worldview. A decision that led to a desk job and took me back into the fray of Southern California, away from the quieter path I had originally pursued.
As I retire, contemplating next steps, my mind has turned to back to that decision, wondering what my life would have been like if I had pursued my original goal of working in the natural world. Would my wife (I can't imagine any life without her) and I be living in a small town, embracing retirement in an inclusive, comforting community or after years of moving from assignment to assignment would we be looking for a place to put down roots? Or after a life of small towns would we be craving the excitement of a large city? Would my work experiences, although different, be as fulfilling? Unanswerable questions; but worth contemplating as we make plans to leave the asphalt, swimming pools, manicured lawns and predictable weather of Coastal California for a higher, windswept, colder land in the sage where the Rockies touch the Great Plains.