Rising Up by Rooting Down 1

What brought me to the Roaring Fork Valley eight years ago was a deep longing for a place to root down. Having lived in multiple countries, I had encountered many of the world’s treasures but didn’t find “home” until coming here. I landed a position with Colorado Mountain College (CMC), but perhaps it was Mother Sopris that drew my family here with her rooted, humble magnetism: the antidote for an unmoored wanderlust. In this I am like the rest of us, for we are all immigrants beneath this mountain, the difference being when each of us arrived here.

During my previous travels through five continents, I learned five languages to become an aficionado of recipes and stories from every place I visited. The more I listened, the more I realized these were all part of the same narrative: the story of our human need to belong and to get along, to know where we fit in the cosmic picture. Our recipes, languages, and cultures are templates for developing and expressing our relationship to one another and the earth.

What brought me to sustainability was the realization that these relationships are under threat. Science tells us we are now in the age of the Anthropocene, the first geologic era named after a species—us—for we have radically (and perhaps irreversibly) altered the physical structure of our planet. We humans, who in a span of mere centuries have caused the sixth mass extinction event in the 3.7 billion year history of life on Earth, have endangered our own life-support system—the only known biosphere anywhere in the universe. Along with this loss of biodiversity, the cultural diversity of humanity (or ethnosphere) has also been greatly diminished over the past two centuries as the modern industrial economy has colonized indigenous people on all continents, catalyzing the loss of thousands of languages and lifeways—each of which once preserved sacred knowledge and a unique relationship to the land.

Why were we taught that we are separate from nature and from each other, that we can master nature (and other humans) for our own ends, and that we do not depend upon nature (and each other) for our very existence? Science now shows us the profound folly of this notion, but long before that, so did all the mythological traditions of humanity. These stories remind us that we are not separate entities, each whole unto ourselves; rather, we are all parts of a larger whole, and our identity comes from our relationships with all the other parts. However, when we are in constant migration, we cannot rediscover those relationships and remember what we always knew. We need a place to root down. Because of CMC, I was fortunate to find such a place: this valley, so conducive to partnership, reciprocity, and interdependence. This is what makes our home special.

Case in point: because of you, our stakeholders, we heard (when we asked you in 2010) that our community needed sustainability education. In response, we launched a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sustainability Studies in 2011. Because our valley is home to some of the most innovative sustainability organizations in the country, we partnered with dozens of local employers to provide training, internships, and job opportunities. To date, 44 students in the Roaring Fork Valley have graduated with this degree and entered a wide variety of fields in which they are now leaders. Among our local graduates are those who conserve land and open space, build soil and grow food on that land, and create local markets for that produce. Others work to protect the water we all need to live, ensure access to the outdoors for disabled children, maintain the environmental health of our communities, convert food waste into compost, and coach the community on both conserving energy and powering their homes and businesses with clean energy.

Each of these graduates provides our community with added vitality and resilience, but their greatest value is derived from the relationships among us. These former students have now become our partners, rising up as role models for current and future waves of students. As CMC celebrates the past 50 years of serving our beautiful Rocky Mountain communities, these bright souls now teach us how to grow our own future in uncertain times.

Adrian Fielder is Assistant Dean of Instruction at CMC, where he is proud to have co-created one of CMC’s first bachelor programs with a team of excellent colleagues both within the institution and in the wider community.