Over the break, Kate gifted me Kim Stanley Robinson’s beautiful new book The High Sierra: A Love Story. Having read The Ministry for the Future last year (and the Mars trilogy many years ago—I recommend them all), I was excited for a glimpse into Robinson’s life as a camper, backpacker, and hiker in the mountains that are the central touchstone of our family summers. It’s a fascinating and beautiful book, and poking around in it led me to the equally fascinating and beautiful interview between Robinson and Ezra Klein on Klein’s podcast. An idea from the book that’s discussed in the podcast is one that Robinson terms “psychogeology,” or what in an Atlantic review was described as the “effect on the human mind” of the mountains: “the feelings and perceptions caused by the exposed rock, the light, the thinner air at altitude.” 

There is, of course, an effect on the human mind (and spirit) of any landscape, built or otherwise—the “poetics of space,” as Gaston Bachelard put it. Some spaces—like the High Sierra for Robinson, and for my family—are sacred, and attuning to that sacredness is part of what we try to help students do here at Brandeis, through reflection (such as in the 1st grade sacred space project), connection (in our various outdoor adventures), and collective prayer. After reading about Robinson’s love of the Sierras, I found myself thinking about how the vistas I live in—the undulating peaks of San Francisco’s hills as seen from our living room couch, that certain slant of light in the Beit Midrash here on campus—calm or brighten or restore my spirit. 

This weekend, I am headed to Denver with a delegation of Brandeis teachers and programmatic leaders, for the Prizmah (or national Jewish day school) conference. While there, we’ll be sharing about our work on teaching democracy and Jewish ethics, which I recorded a podcast about for Prizmah just before the break. I will also be paying attention to standing on a different spine of our world, “Looking down for miles / Through high still air,” as Gary Snyder wrote (though in a different mountain range, and a different season). I will look forward to coming back refreshed by the new perspectives we encounter up there in the Rockies, just as I was by the tempestuous and plunging beauty of our local ocean.