Day 2: Crossing Utah and Colorado
There will be a learning lesson here, but first please permit me a Sabbath reflection. Sunrise, five miles west of Salina, open road but for a few early morning long-haul truckers, bottom land rich in ripe alfalfa bounded by rising buttes of banded red and white, Neil Young “Helpless” the first song of the day. It will buckle your knees, driving or not. This is my church. God bless all of us.
It is high summer here, yellow flowers trace the highway, the stubby pines dark dots of green, and even the sage is greener than grey. Quaking aspen choke every low draw and creek. Over 100 million years these mountains raised their deep-sea sediments, bruised upwards by forces as far away as Mexico and the Pacific Rim. Over ten thousand years this must have been Eden for Native Americans, providing bounty and wealth in the summer and hidden, deep valleys for protection from brutal winters. Then came fur fever, Manifest Destiny, and small pox and now it is another Eden, small ranchers holding tight to the bottom land when just over that next ridge is surely God’s country. By afternoon I had crossed the continental divide, and in the Colorado Rockies the aspens are spilling gold down the mountainsides, as the high country braces in mid-Autumn for winter’s approach.
It is a day like this that makes me want to smash every digital device in school and home and scream “it is all right here!” But that is rash and intemperate; each tool has its place. But I tell you what: if I had seen a family van driving alongside of me today with kids glued to a Disney flick on the in-car DVD player, it would have been a knife to my heart and soul.
Give me students and time to walk down just five miles of these hills, plunging down through the history of the earth, asking why that plant grows there and how water and soil and bugs and air all create high summer in one range and not in another. Of course these five miles are a metaphor, and we want each student to find their own “five miles of Rockies heaven” that stirs some question or passion in them. It might be a community service center, a lab, a volleyball court, a musical score, a train station…we don’t care. But I know this: if any student takes the time to deeply understand just “five miles” of their choosing, the “how” and “why” and “what if” of just those five miles, they are set for life and we have done our jobs.
How to start: any time I have the honor of being with students, I try to find a time to turn them loose in some slightly unfamiliar setting…a forest or creek bed, an airport or dirt road, ask them to go off alone for a few minutes and find something that is new to them, some question to which they don’t know the answer, something they care about. Report it back to the group or note it in a journal. That is the start.
Back in the day we had a saying, induced I am sure by certain illegal substances: “This is your movie, man!” Well, it is a good saying. If we make the movie for our students, it will always be our movie, not theirs. We have to give them a place and time to create their own movie. I added a scene to mine this morning, thanks to a God who is kind enough to wake me for the sunrise, and splash Her bounty for me to see down this winding road.
My work starts tomorrow at Colorado Academy!