Community and Communion

We hope you will join us on January 19th as we host our third annual Post-Solstice Solace at High Peak Camp near Estes Park. It is an opportunity for us to go sledding, snowshoeing, ice skating, ice fishing, and play broomball. However, the day is unique for more than what we do, but also for where, why, and how we do it.

High Peak Camp, which is now operated by the Salvation Army, was the original homestead sight of Enos Mills (1870-1922), who is widely regarded as the father of Rocky Mountain National Park. In 1903, Mills wrote, “In the mellow-lighted forest aisles, beneath the beautiful airy arches of limbs and leaves, with the lichen-tinted columns of gray and brown, with the tongueless eloquence of the bearded, veteran trees, amid the silence of centuries, you will come into your own.” Mills would have shared much with Gaston Rébuffat’s observation in 1956 that, “In this modern age, very little remains that is real. Night has been banished, so have the cold, the wind and the stars. They have all been neutralized: the rhythm of life itself is obscured.” Even Mills’ contemporary, John Muir (1838-1914) was so unnerved by what was then regarded as ‘overcivilization’ that he felt compelled to note that, “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” There was a more militant version of this sentiment to come in Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire in 1968.

Enos Mills left Kansas at fourteen and homesteaded in Colorado that same year, making his first ascent of Longs Peak at fifteen. A regard for his health drove him across the plains, and a regard for our sanity is often cited as the cause of our going to the mountains. With the Solace, it is our hope that we can pull people away from town and all of its attendant concerns: from the humdrummery of political chicanery to workplace intrigues and chronic social posturing, and that these concerns will ineluctably give way to a cognizance of a different kind of attention and appreciation. While it’s a consideration the aforementioned naturalists would have appreciated, we needn’t go as far as they did to benefit by it. We needn’t become the men Robert Service described in his poem The Men that Don’t Fit In: “If they just went straight, they might go far; / They are strong and brave and true; / But they are always tired of the things that are, / And they want the strange and new.”

If we can pause to appreciate the long ignored – the pine tree, the now lengthening days, the sky, the crisp air, the solitude and silence of a snowy meadow, the sensation of seasonality, and the nearly full moon. Consider those trees Mills was so enraptured by: the Colorado Spruce (Picea pungens, which translates as “the spruce that pricks”) and the hardy Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta, “the pine that twists”). If we can succeed in noticing these things, we can succeed in noticing one another. It is a matter of what we give our attention to as much as it is the spirit in which we give it. We can come together with the enthusiasm of overworked and overcommitted parents attending a children’s birthday party, or we can opt to know one another, to engage with each other, and to buck the ulteriority that defines the networkable relations of our everyday lives. We can really listen and really speak – we can converse because that is part of how we breathe life into our little fellowship.

This community, the sharing and holding of something in common with others, of our mutual participation and association, is what Ridgeview aspires to when its aspirations carry it beyond the narrowness of the classroom. It aims not only to educate the young, but to bring everyone together and better their lives. We can only do this if we transcend the one-dimensional world of work together.

In an essay that appeared in the journal First Things in June of 1995, the English philosopher Michael Oakeshott examined the ideas of work and play. ‘Play’ was regarded as an attitude we might have towards an activity, and one not restricted to youth. In some respects, the essay could be read as an inducement to break away not from the adult, but from the mentality that everything was about “getting and spending, of making and consuming, endlessly.” In an observation of the modern world different but not alien to Rébuffat’s, Oakeshott observed “that the life of a creature of wants is frustrating and unsatisfactory,” and that, “wherever this sort of life has tended to become predominant…this recognition has become more acute.”

Somewhere in our psyche we recognize that a full and fully human life must consist of something more or at least that it should include a reprieve from this treadmill, transactional existence. To Homo sapiens, intelligent man, Oakeshott added Hobo faber, man the maker of things, Homo laborans, man the worker, and most relevantly, Homo ludens, man the player. Oakeshott contended that play was “an experience of enjoyment that has no ulterior purpose, no further result aimed at, and begins and ends in itself. It is not a striving after what one has not got,” and important in juxtaposing Oakeshott with these naturalists, “it is not an assault upon nature to yield the satisfaction of a want.” Play was “emancipated from the seriousness, the purposefulness, and the alleged ‘importance’ of ‘work’ and the satisfaction of wants.”

The purpose of the Post-Solstice Solace is more than a celebration of the season; it is a celebration of one another in a setting in which we are more inclined to be attentive. These were the crux of the observations regarding the ‘power of nature’ as made by Mills, Muir, and Rébuffat – that we might not only find ourselves there, but one another. And, that we might set our studies and work aside, to play and discover that one of the unintended consequences of play is that we illuminate the world and reveal it “as it is and not merely in respect of its potential to satisfy human wants.” A great community gives us what we need and satisfies wants we could not articulate. It remains to us only to define the character of our encounter with that community. The Post-Solstice Solace is yet another example of a school that is more than the sum of its parts, and the provision of an opportunity to be more than merely a school to attend, but to be a community to which you belong.

D. Anderson


Further Reading:

Alexander Drummond

Enos Mills: Citizen of Nature

University Press of Colorado

Michael Oakeshott

Work and Play

First Things, June 1995

Mr. Anderson