A quasi-surreal amalgam of Moab, Switzerland, and Middle Earth
September 26, 2011
“Practical life teaches us that people may differ and that both may be wrong: it also teaches us that people may differ and both be right. Anchor yourself fast in the latter faith, or the former will sweep your heart away.”
*Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare*– Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827
Wild turkeys huddle in the roadside gullies, just waiting until I come along, at which time the turkey pointman leads his noisome troops across Colorado Highway 141. I’ve dodged bighorn sheep, squirrels and a porcupine. Squirrels are the daredevils of Highway 141, playing “catch me if you can” with the dualies and SUVs that traverse that wild corridor. The squirrels often lose, leaving not much more than some twisted fur and blood as evidence of their rodent recklessness. I enjoy a 75 minute commute back and forth to work each day. It is a 130 mile round trip through some of the most beautiful country in Western Colorado. Unaweep Canyon is a quasi-surreal amalgam of Moab, Switzerland, and Middle Earth. I teach at a little school at the southern terminus of Unaweep. And that is all I will tell you about the high desert paradise that encloses my life for many blessed hours each week. The kids I teach, kindergartners through seniors in high school, are ranch kids. Their parents own land, horses, cattle, and big trucks with big hauling capacities. They are friendly and happy and have some sense of how beautiful and peaceful are their surroundings. But I am an outsider, an unknown quantity as of the beginning of September, and many of these farmers and ranchers have misgivings about strangers. This mistrust is based on fear, not of the unknown, but fear that the convoluted machinations of the world will encroach on the order and traditions of a simple lifestyle in a remote place. And you know what, I understand these parents. I get the paranoia of pop-culture. I identify with the parental reflex to protect children from what is a topsy turvy, perverse world. The best justification for these parents’ defensive attitudes is simply a list of the day’s news from America’s public schools:
My concern, as a teacher and a friend, is that those sweet children, swaddled in the canyons of Western Colorado, will be soon thrust into the wide and weird world without the knowledge they will need to take on the deceit and demagoguery they will face in higher education and outside employment.
I have always been clinically blunt with my kids. The “birds and the bees” was a matter of fact lesson, and still is. We talk frankly about the moral, spiritual, and physical dangers presented by a society that has largely discarded traditional values, marriage, commitment, chastity and simple honesty. We discuss the psychological underpinnings of opposing ideologies, and why some people value risk and liberty, and others value certainty and constraint. I have chosen this approach as a parent because my kids have, and will, face the world alone. They must understand what evil looks and sounds like. They must be aware that there are people and nations in the world that abhor moral agency. They must recognize that deceit becomes prejudice, becomes fear, becomes violence, becomes a worldwide movement to destroy those who oppose the deceivers.
I have tried to be a model of preparation for my children, not just of provisions and savings, but of spiritual and personal readiness for times of deprivation and conflict. The ranch children who toil in the hay fields know self-sufficiency and common sense. But they lack exposure and discipline. The fortification of the spirit is not a theoretical contrivance, it is a practiced skill.
I am a small town girl, and the same red rocks and cottonwood trees that grace the remote canyons that surround my new school, bedecked my growing-up years as well. I was raised in the town directly over the mountains to the west of this secluded and tranquil place. If I can offer anything to the apprehensive parents of my students, I hope it will be a little encouragement that the world outside is not all bad. There are many of us, possibly a majority of Americans, who are fighting to draw our political and social constructs from the brink of ruination. We too, the members of the Tea Party and various Conservative movements, want to raise our children in a climate of decency and goodness. But we can’f afford to cower and wall up in the canyons of the West. We have to come out and take a stand. Trust but verify.