Conservative commentary: Men to match my mountains?
October 28, 2007
Steamboat SpringsSteamboat Springs — Fifty summers ago, at just 13, I gained admission to Princeton. Soon I was also attending Harvard, Yale, and Columbia (long before its Ahmadinejad disgrace). Eventually, my son enrolled with me in these demanding courses. We'll enroll his son one of these days. — Fifty summers ago, at just 13, I gained admission to Princeton. Soon I was also attending Harvard, Yale, and Columbia (long before its Ahmadinejad disgrace). Eventually, my son enrolled with me in these demanding courses. We'll enroll his son one of these days.
Steamboat Springs — Fifty summers ago, at just 13, I gained admission to Princeton. Soon I was also attending Harvard, Yale, and Columbia (long before its Ahmadinejad disgrace). Eventually, my son enrolled with me in these demanding courses. We’ll enroll his son one of these days.
To be clear, however, I’m referring to Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks, not the towers of academe. Since 1957, I’ve seldom missed a summer to climb one of our magnificent 14ers. The steep trails have taught me as many lessons as my college days at Principia or my years in the Navy.
If you’ve spent any time on the high ridges, you will relate. But as more and more Coloradans are transplants, living in laps from subdivision to mall to office park, too few now taste the bracing air, keen risk, and sweet reward of a day above timberline.
You may actually have a better chance of learning what America means by ascending Mt. Harvard or Mt. Princeton than by enrolling at those universities. A survey by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (www.isi.org) found that seniors on 50 of our most prestigious campuses averaged no better than a D or an F on a basic test of civic literacy.
According to Thomas Krannawitter, a political science professor at Hillsdale College, civic knowledge along with self-assertion, self-reliance, and self-restraint is essential for citizenship in a free society. Yet, there’s a worsening deficit in those attributes among younger Americans today. It bodes ill for our country in a dangerous world.
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On my bookshelf, after a life in politics and the outdoors, the writings of America’s founders share space with hiking guides, naturalists, and historians. John Muir’s writings about the Sierras resonate powerfully here in the Rockies. His paean to “these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, opening a thousand windows to show us God,” was a watchword to my father, who introduced me to the Collegiate Peaks.
“Men to Match My Mountains,” Irving Stone’s stirring account of the opening of the Far West before 1900, was another favorite in our family. Its title comes from a Sam Foss poem of 1894: “Bring me men to match my mountains, bring me men to match my plains, men with freedom in their visions and creation in their veins.”
The two authors, as everybody understood until recently, weren’t talking about males. They meant human beings of character, men and women “whose thoughts shall pave a highway up to ampler destinies,” as Foss wrote. In this inclusive sense the quote long held an honored place at the Air Force Academy. But in 2003, feminists forced its removal; too bad.
Writing just a year after Katherine Bates penned “America the Beautiful” atop Pike’s Peak, Foss entitled his verses, “The Coming American.” Americans worthy of these mountains did come as she and he both prayed. Many are enshrined at our State Capitol in Denver – but you wonder if we still have the spirit they did.
The war monuments outside the Capitol, like the water engineers glorified on murals inside, are politically incorrect today. So are some of the Senate’s stained-glass memorials: Otto Mears who relocated the Utes, Gov. Edwin Johnson who stood against unrestricted Mexican immigration and the wartime danger of a Japanese fifth column, Sen. Charles Hughes who fought federal land policy, the mining and railroad magnate David Moffatt.
Though neither defense nor development is fashionable now, where would we be without them? Modern as we are, summits remain to be climbed with dedication and daring, or our civilization will not endure. Men and women of backbone are still needed. America’s founding documents – and the high trails – still have much to teach.
John Andrews of Centennial was president of the Colorado Senate from 2003 to 2005. He is now a Claremont Institute fellow, a member of the Conservative Leadership Counsel of Northwest Colorado, and host of Backbone Radio, Sundays at 5 p.m. online at http://www.710knus.com. You can e-mail John at email@example.com.