Andersen: A goodbye in the wilderness
Our hometown kids are blessed to grow up in the Roaring Fork Valley. Most parents know this, but our kids don’t always appreciate the paradise into which they are born — until they leave. Then comes a reckoning that makes the Roaring Fork Valley incredibly precious.
My son, Tait, has known this most of his life. He found his identity here, starting as an infant, riding in a backpack on my shoulders. Tait was born in Aspen, his formative influences nurtured from nature in the mountains and deserts of the Southwest.
That’s why Tait said goodbye a week ago and left for Norway, where he’s starting a two-year master’s program at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. The fit could not be better. The values of the school so clearly align with Tait’s:
“NMBU’s mission is to contribute to the well-being of the planet. Our interdisciplinary research generates innovations in food, health, environmental protection, climate and sustainable use of natural resources.”
If that sounds idealistic, such is the nature of a values-based education, where students shun a purely material focus in favor of global stewardship, where teachers incorporate studies of sustainability into visionary curricula.
Tait’s values-based education began at the Carbondale Waldorf School, where values and nature are the focuses. He discovered the same at Prescott College for his undergraduate degree. In both cases, his mother and I ignored warnings that an alternative education might not prepare Tait for life in “the real world.”
I thought about this last weekend as I said goodbye to Tait on a wilderness trail in what we both consider “the real world.” We were hiking to a hut with a group of Huts for Vets combat veterans the day before Tait boarded a plane for Norway. Parting in wilderness was so fitting for us since wilderness has brought us so close together.
“I grew up in the Elk Mountains of Colorado. They are my home. Over the course of my life, the adventures and experiences I’ve had in these mountains with friends and family have played a huge role in shaping me into who I am today,” read Tait’s application essay to the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, describing how a heartfelt sense of place nurtured him into personhood; it was sense of place that gave him a grounded identity, which is uncommon for mobile, itinerant Americans. “Have you ever thought that you really knew someone and then realized that you didn’t know what color their eyes were? I thought I knew nature, and then my eyes were opened to the infinite nuances that I had overlooked before.”
Growing up here, Tait became an acute observer of the natural world around him.
“At the same time that I was getting closer to the nuances of nature, I was also starting to see nature on larger scales, looking at ecosystems, geology and meteorology,” he wrote. “I was putting the pieces together into a holistic view of the way the natural world worked, from the microscopic to the macroscopic.”
Tait cultivated an appreciation for an expansive world, far beyond the screen-addicting inputs to which most American kids are tuned. This made Tait a favorable candidate to the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, along with an international group of students, for whom Norway pays the tuition.
“NMBU’s research is enabling people all over the world to tackle the big, global challenges regarding the environment, sustainable development, how to improve human and animal health, renewable energy sources, food production, and land- and resource management,” according to the school’s website.
Here is a positive approach to education in a world in desperate need of alternative outcomes. And there is Tait, a child of the Roaring Fork, forming global relationships.
“As I was discovering and growing in this newfound world,” Tait wrote, “I realized that it wasn’t just nature that was intriguing me. Talking to a Mexican fisherman on a pier in rural Mexico, I saw a light in his eyes as he described his love for the sea. We connected over our mutual love for the environments that we call home. Never before had I related to someone so different on such a deep level.”
Sensitivity. Awareness. Care. Connection. These are the alternatives worthy of higher education.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He misses Tait and may be comforted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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