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Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

What is a community but a shared sense of place? Defining that place was the final assignment for sixteen high school seniors from Carbondale last week at the closing dinner of our semester-long seminar, “The Literature of Place,” which I taught with Aaron Garland.

“Growing up, I was always around water,” wrote one student about the Crystal River. “I found myself becoming in tune with my sense of place near rivers. I couldn’t help it because ‘life looks for life,'” he wrote, quoting from Carl Sagan, one of our readings.

“This place took care me when I had my knee surgery,” wrote a young athlete about a favorite park bench in Carbondale. “When I sat there, peace and relief came to my head and soul, bringing peace of mind. I made lasting friendships on that bench.”



One student described climbing Carbondale’s most prominent mountain peak: “While on top of this amazing work of nature I realized in complete and total acceptance that this is what I call home ” the crisp clean air, the lush green pine and aspen forests, the rocky majesty of Sopris.”

Another student viewed Mount Sopris from town: “All my sense of time, both past and present, swirl around the mountain like the winds blowing snow. But for me the true allure is the spiritual aura emanating from its peaks. The gray rock and snow-white slopes, ridges and crests, rock glaciers and bowls, evergreens and aspens, create an ever-changing, endless display as they interlock with nature.”




One student sought out solitude: “The entrance to my small sanctuary is a unique architecture. Pines and bushes create a gate that leads to a ring of trees with an opening to the entire valley. My seat is quite apparent. It is a stone like any other that seems to have been made by massive forces into a natural throne.”

For another student, comfort was found in a different cloister: “The abandoned cabin has been my greatest source of wisdom for eighteen years. Long has he projected a fatherly intimacy that has provided me with a place to find all the magical mysteries behind my natural breathing routine. I am surrounded by open land, by luxurious open land.”

One student described an internal sense of place as derived through school: “I am coerced to go to school, but there are moments when I get deep into thought. I become lost in pondering or stuck deep within the confines of my own creativity. I like those moments.”

One student is from a founding family of Carbondale: “The place I choose is our family ranch. I have grown up there and am now losing it. The ranch is sold to a developer and I won’t have the freedom there anymore. My sense of place is very emotional to me. It has been engraved in my memory, and thank goodness there is no way for me to erase it!”

One student finds sense of place in his back yard: “I realized that out of all the streets, homes, back alleys, parks, rivers, valleys, and mountains that we are blessed with in such a place of beauty, I found the most comfort in a place that is located just outside my home, a place that most people know as their back yard. Some of my happiest memories were born from summer barbeques, sitting on my back porch, either with friends or family, and just truly enjoying one another’s presence.”

“Even Carbondale,” wrote another student, “the town where I have grown up, the town that pretty much defines familiarity for me, can look different from the top of a hill just north of town. I will remember this view for the rest of my life because it shows that a new mindset is always possible; sometimes you just need to take a step back and see it.”

Another student summarized a peak reflection of her community and her ties to it: “I will miss being a witness to these things when I leave here, but I will keep what the mountain has shared with me forever. I will be eternally grateful that I can call this experience and this place ‘home.'”