CLAY JENKINSON: The Winter Humanities Retreats

One of the principal joys of my life is hosting humanities retreats at Lochsa Lodge, just west of Missoula, Mont., in the first weeks of January. People gather from all over the country to talk about books for four days.

It’s not just about books, of course. It’s about the art of genuine, mutually respectful conversation. It’s about reading and thinking about books in one of the most beautiful places in North America. It’s about evening talks around a roaring pit fire under the evergreens, with the stars glittering overhead. It’s about the hot springs we visit on the last day of the retreat. It’s about good wine, good friends (old and new), wolf tracks in the snow, the joy of being in a place that is off the Internet grid (most of the time).

We’ve been offering these retreats for the last three years. They are one of the pure joys of my life. We call them: To Live Deliberately.

This year two retreats are set:

  • Week One: “Walden, Desert Solitaire, and Minimalism,” Jan. 8-12

We always read “Walden” at the first of these two retreats because it is, in my opinion, one of the handful of most important American books. Walden asks us to look into the mirror of our lives, our choices, our work, our recreations and to ask ourselves if we are serving our souls’ journey or just robotically getting and spending. What would it be like “to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life”?

“I once was lost, but now I’m found…”
“I once was lost, but now I’m found…”

Thoreau can be annoying. The first chapter of Walden, “Economy,” is sometimes hard to stomach. If there is anything I know how to get you through, it is your initial resistance to Thoreau and Walden. This year, we are also reading Edward Abbey’s great “Desert Solitaire” by way of comparison. I see Abbey as an even more curmudgeonly Thoreau and “Desert Solitaire” as a 20th century update to Thoreau’s masterpiece.

We sit around in a relaxed circle for a couple of hours in the a.m. and a couple of hours in the p.m. The rest of the time you can hike, nap, read, drink, sing, write, meditate, or establish new friendships.

  • Week Two: Essential Reading in Native American History, Jan. 14-18

Given the flashpoint in White-Indian Relations on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in western North Dakota, and given my lifelong fascination with Native American Culture, I decided to make the second of the two retreats about books I believe every American should read about the Indian history of the American West. I choose highly-readable, nonacademic books that will generate a very energetic set of discussions.

Standing Rock protest.
Standing Rock protest.

We will discuss such issues as Indian sovereignty, the relocation policies of the Jefferson-Jackson era, forced assimilation, the boarding schools. And the Indian Wars (principally those on the Great Plains) and their aftermath. I cannot think of a more fascinating single subject. Here are the books I have chosen for this retreat:

— “Son of the Morning Star,” Evan S. Connell.

—  “Crazy Horse and Custer,” Stephen Ambrose.

— “The Killing of Crazy Horse,” Thomas Powers.

— “Wooden Leg: A Warrior Who Fought Custer,” Wooden Leg and Thomas B. Marquis.

— Buffalo Bill’s America,” Louis Warren.

I know this sounds like a lot of reading, but it is great reading, and you have several months to do it. I recommend that you start with “Wooden Leg” and then move on to “The Killing of Crazy Horse.”

The protest at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline is just the beginning of what it going to be a long period of renewed Native American activism and assertiveness. This is your opportunity to come to terms with the principal issues that are fueling what some call “the continuing Indian wars.”

You can book this trip by contacting my travel partner Becky Cawley. Her email is bek@odytours.net. Her telephone number is: (208) 791-8721. Or contact me at (701) 202-6751. (But you are better off with Becky!)

Start reading!!!!!

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