Episode 111 – What do nature and philosophy have to do with Veterans? with Paul Andersen
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Paul Andersen is a journalist, book author and wilderness guide. He has worked with veterans since founding Huts For Vets in 2013. Huts for Vets serves veterans who are seeking a perspective shift through beautiful mountain scenery, camaraderie, and philosophical explorations of literature. In this episode we discuss:
• Why spending time in nature is more important than ever – especially for veterans
• Literature, philosophy, and healing
• The origin story of Huts for Vets
Intro: 00:01 This is the Eagle Nation podcast where we talk about building richer lives and stronger communities. We have inspiring guests to have real conversations about things that you care about.
JJ Pinter: 00:13 Hey everyone. Welcome back to the Eagle Nation podcast. This is JJ Pinter and I’m going to be your host again today for another fantastic episode of the podcast with a awesome guest. So today I would like to welcome Mr Paul Andersen, who is a bunch of things. He’s a journalist. He’s an outdoorsman. He is he the Executive Director of a nonprofit called huts for vets based in Colorado, but he’s a kind of a renaissance man and was introduced to me by a member of our team, Mike Greenwood at t Marty Ruby, and Mike had said, after getting to know me a little bit, he just said he thought that Paul and I would have a lot in common. It would be, he might be an interesting person to do a podcast with, and so I trusted Mike because he always knows what he’s talking about and got on the phone with Paul and I found all of those things to be true.
JJ Pinter: 01:05 So I’d like to say a huge welcome Paul. Thanks for joining us today, all the way from beautiful Colorado. Thanks Jj and I fall short of your expectations. It’s all my fault. I used to have a friend when I was in college that would say the key to happiness in life is low expectations. It sounds like a terrible way to go through the world. But I wanted to start. I was doing a little research for this podcast and thinking about the things that I wanted to talk about and one of the things I came across was Paul’s linkedin profile. And as I was looking at it, I, I discovered there’s kind of a biographical section at the beginning in Paul. You have one of the most beautifully written bio is that I think I have ever come across and I, as soon as I read it, it just really struck me.
JJ Pinter: 01:59 And so I’d like to start this conversation and I’d like to read your bio if that’s okay, because I think it’s really beautiful and it does a great job of describing you. So at the top of his linkedin profile, here’s what Paul has to say about himself. I’m an eager communicator and everything I do, I take pleasure in the connections I make throughout life. I find value in civil dialog as a means of addressing conflicts, challenges and opportunities. As a writer, I explore history, nature, the environment, philosophy, human relations, and current events. In my work with veterans, I offer a path in the wilderness for healing and perspective. In my personal life, I’m elated and energized by the places I go and the people I meet. In some, I’m a grateful person who loves to share what I love. Wow, that’s really beautifully written. So thank you for sharing that with the world. To start off with, I think you have a really interesting background and before we dive into the meat of the conversation, I know you’ve done a bunch of things in your career. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind sharing a little bit about yourself with the audience.
Paul Andersen: 03:12 Sure. Starting with my origins, right? I was born in Chicago in 1951 mayor Richard j Dot Daley signed my birth certificate. So I grew up in suburbia in the 19 fifties when the baby boom, I, you know, I’m right at the advance years of the baby boom. Started it and I think it was a watershed date in American culture and society. 1950, I think was, was a watershed. Those born in Nineteen 15 before I think had a very different look at their culture and society, having witnessed their parents having survived both the great depression often and World War II and uh, they, they witnessed their parents doing sacrifice for the country. Nineteen 51 and beyond, which is my generation, I think at a very different view of society and culture. It was a time of plenty of, of excess, if you will, and materialism the advent of television, mass media and a sense that maybe the sacrifice wasn’t necessary for our country.
Paul Andersen: 04:23 And of course that all sort of morphed into the Vietnam War. And when I graduated high school I went to new trier, High School in Northfield, Illinois. But I graduated in 1960. Nine of the Tet offensive has been less than a year. And the world was in turmoil. America was in trauma, civil rights, women’s, women’s liberation, the war in Vietnam, at the environment. There were a lot of indicators that America was on a rocky path that was potentially damaging and destructive and so that’s the era I came of age and develop a bit of a rebellious attitude about America, questioning the deepest precepts of what it means to be a free person in a society. So with that I. I joined I guess the hippie movement and it was a fashion statement as much as anything but long hair of bell bottom jeans, prog rock and roll music, Blues in Chicago.
Paul Andersen: 05:21 I would go to the blues places and I began to explore the city of Chicago as a young person as soon as I got my driver’s license and discovered that there are difference in differences in class in America that are dividing lines that we see today that are, I think often creating disruptions in urban places. So I witnessed this sort of cultural conflict and decide I don’t really want to be part of it. I didn’t want to be part of the Vietnam War. So I took a student deferment and I went to college in Colorado in a small town called Gunnison, uh, at about 7,000 feet in the central rockies of western Colorado. And there I developed for the first time a love of place crested view to Colorado was my spiritual home. It became that and still is in certain ways. I lived just across the ELC range now in the Aspen area.
Paul Andersen: 06:14 I actually live in a rural part of western Colorado, of the frying Pan Valley in a place where at night it’s absolutely still and silent except for the murmur of the frying Pan River down below my house. And maybe an occasional owl hooting or coyotes and giving the stars at night are brilliant. And, and, and there’s a smear of stars in the sky. Nature has become a, my church and wilderness, a part of my religion. So I, I’m married, I have a son who’s 25 years old and I live in this beautiful place and all through my life, which has been really fairly charmed in my opinion at wondered will I ever have a service component in my life that came to the fore when I discovered about six years ago that the suicide rate among veterans was 18 per day. I figured that I could not believe.
Paul Andersen: 07:04 I thought it was a Typo. I began to read more about veterans’ issues by then the suicide rate climb until it was 20 and 22 per day. And I thought, my God, this demographic perhaps could benefit from an immersion in nature. So I adapted a seminar that I created for the Aspen Institute called nature and society, which was an exploration of nature and the values of nature. And I adapted that to a veteran audience. I found a number of veterans in the valley here and the roaring fork valley, mostly Vietnam veterans who I proposed this to. They said, let’s try it. We did it. We just finished our sixth year. We’ve served over about 170 veterans now and I think with meaningful dialogue to the world of ideas and a meaningful immersion in wild nature. I’m 67 years old and I feel like I’m still growing in my life.
JJ Pinter: 07:58 Well Paul, there’s a lot there and a lot that I want to get into. Thanks for what a really interesting story. A couple of things I want to call out. I grew up on a, on a farm, Rural Michigan, a very small town, very rural, and one of the things that I’ve thought about a lot is that if you were to walk outside in my parents house, so the house I grew up because it’s so flat in the Midwest, you can see the sky, you know, in all directions for a long ways and the stars that you can see are just incredible and it makes me feel very small in one sentence when I see those, but in another sense that makes me feel sad sometimes because there are so many people who grow up in a world where they can’t see stars. You know, if you live inside a city or an urban area with light pollution, like you just, you don’t grow up seeing those. And I just no question embedded there. I just thought of that and it’s, it’s really striking to me as well, very
Paul Andersen: 08:55 point that when you look at the ancient, uh, you know, I’m thinking the, the early Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, any ancient society would have had the stars first and foremost all through their existence because of no light pollution and being outdoors a lot at night. You would just simply gaze up. And from that came the fount of mythology and ideas of sort of mythic cosmic proportions. I mean a Henry David Thoreau when he was asked when he was living at Walden, Henry, don’t you get lonely up at Walden all by yourself? And he said, how could I be lonely? Don’t we live in the Milky Way? So there becomes a relationship there that is much larger than the physical relationship on earth or any kind of material relationship. It’s, it’s a universal relationship with all of existence. And I think that is something that’s being denied to us by technology and certainly by urbanization of light pollution,
JJ Pinter: 09:54 you know, it’s going to be a good podcast when you’re talking about thoreau within the first 10 minutes. Paul just, you just say, you know, I’m excited so I have to. I have to ask. During your hippie days, what was your favorite?
Paul Andersen: 10:06 The first real rock band I saw at a place called the electric theater in Chicago. Will never forget it. My drum teacher took me there. We were 18 years old and he was pretty savvy on the music scene. He was an outlier and very advanced or his is years. So as his drum students, he took me under his wing and took me to the electric theater, which was an old 19 thirties, forties jazz ballroom that had gone to see because the end of the jazz era, places like that were deserted, not used. So they became rock venues and, and the, the owners probably didn’t care what happened to them. So it was just turned loose on this, at this hippie element. And the first band I saw was the Jeff Beck Group, Jeff, that Rod Stewart, who was the lead singer and Nicky Hopkins on Keyboard. Ron would unveil, it was, it was classic British rock at the, at the spear point of the British invasion. And the first light show I ever saw was there, the strobe light. And it was an altering experience.
JJ Pinter: 11:09 It’s so interesting when you think about, you know, now you were. I can listen to any kind of music we could ever want instantaneously. I mean the world is our oyster in terms of music, but that’s a fairly recent occurrence. I remember as a, as a child you could listen to essentially to what was on the radio and music was, was much more regional back then. And so I imagine, you know, you were listening to Chicago bands growing up in southern Michigan. Detroit rock was really big. So like I still bought to the state. Bob Seger is my favorite band of all time. And Ted nugent was really, really popular. But where I lived there was a lot of motown stations. And so like, you know, I would grow up. I love, I still love motown music because, you know, you could get those radio stations from, from my house when I was a kid. Those were some of the things that we’re on. So really, really interesting.
Paul Andersen: 12:01 I grew up in that era to fill motel blues. Jazz of my cd collection is about as eclectic as it gets from Frankie Yankovic to led Zepplin. Uh, I love it all and I love to listen to a lot of classical music too, but music is, is a beautiful expression and it’s maybe one of the more ethereal spiritual expressions of art.
JJ Pinter: 12:24 I want to dive in a little bit. How did you end up in Colorado? Because it seems to me that, you know, you are trying to kind of run your words back at you. You know, so you’re, you’re in Chicago, part of this hippie movement. You’re starting to like really get to know your, your home city a little bit more and understanding that there’s, there’s some underpinnings of, of race and class in America that are causing problems. It seems to me that, you know, maybe ending up in San Francisco or something like that wouldn’t be a more natural kind of place then than gunnison, Colorado who were. I should also say I’ve been to. I’ve flown into gunnison to en route to going skiing at crested Butte, so I’ve been to these places. There ain’t much in gunnison, especially if you. And so I’m just interested in how you landed there.
Paul Andersen: 13:13 I was a skier when America was discovering skiing in the, in the mid sixties. I mean purely was the superstar and in Chicago there wasn’t much opportunity for skiing. First of all, the weather in the winter sucks. It’s, it’s either a bitter cold and windy or it’s it snows and then it rains the next day. So skiing did not have many options. We skied at a couple of ski resorts in southern Wisconsin, one of which was a landfill because that’s the only way you could get elevation in the Midwest was to ski on junk and we called it mount trashmore, but so when I first.
JJ Pinter: 13:50 There’s one of those destroyed as well. I’ve skied up. There’s about trash outside of Detroit
Paul Andersen: 13:57 to Colorado to ski. It was 1965. It was in Aspen. I was 14 years old and to ride that chair, lift up that mountain and just go over a ridge over a ridge over ridge. It was inspiring. It was also terrifying. How the hell was I going to get down this mountain? But what I learned is that skiing on powder is the way to go, not on ice and I could never skied the midwest again, so when I began looking for a college, a ski area in approximate distance from my college was essential. Gunnison, which by the way at that time was one of the cold spots of the nation. I saw more than once on the bank thermometer downtown. 50 below zero, 28 miles away from gunnison is crested Butte, which was then under this, this ski area on this incredible mountain peak and that was my go to place.
JJ Pinter: 14:51 It is so interesting
Paul Andersen: 14:52 because I too love to ski. There’s actually lots of places to ski in Michigan, especially as you get in, in northern Michigan, they’re not very good, but when that’s all you know, then that’s all you know. And then I went to college on the east coast and I experienced skiing that was light years ahead of the Midwest and I thought, Oh man, I will never go back and then you get a chance to ski the rockies and then you’ll never, you’ll never go back to Killington or any of these other places that are, uh, that are on the east coast. So it’s really, really interesting. You go from, you know, your write up and ride down the mountain and you know, 30 seconds to spending, you know, two hours coming down the mountain and some of these big places. It’s crazy. You’re a writer, I guess would probably be the way that you would describe your patient reporter and writer a bank in 1977 in gunnison.
Paul Andersen: 15:50 I was hired by the Gunnison Country Times newspaper, which is a very conservative, small town Western newspaper, but I was hired to report on a mining conflict with crested butte, crested butte and old mining towns from the 18 hundreds as a coal mining district. It wasn’t like asking me, which is wealthy with silver mining in the eighties. It was cold that underlay the town of crested butte and vast amounts of very high profit anthracite coal. There’s also a mountain just to the west of crested butte called Mt. Emmons, and a feature of that mountain is Red Lady Ball, which is this beautiful base in that faces the town like a book end and the needs of that mountain lies 300 million tons of molybdenum or a very low percentage of or have it. That’s how molybdenum is often found and an international mining company called Amax at wanting to mine Mt. Emmons as an industrial mining program, and it was going to totally destroy the ambiance and atmosphere of crested butte. So the town fought it and I reported on that and witnessed a small town defending its soul, if you will. It’s autonomy against a multinational corporate interest and actually winning
JJ Pinter: 17:18 and was that what sparked I guess you know, you see that happen and you watch what can happen when people come together and you see the power in reporting on that. Is that where you decided that you were going to stick with the career in journalism?
Paul Andersen: 17:35 Push me even further from a mainstream American values, which what I began to discover as this insatiable consumer ethic that runs the capitalist underpinnings of America. It’s it to use it and use it first before anybody else and what I saw was that places like Mt. Emmons, places like crested butte and become sacrifice zones for that insatiable consumer mentality and it caused me to step back and look at the culture again and wonder what values would promote that kind of use of our public lands and our common resources. And interesting thing happened after the mine pulled out of crested butte and it did so really only because crested butte was able to delay the mining venture by requiring higher mitigation of the impacts that it was going to cost. And that delay ended up coinciding with a downturn in the metals market, which made ultimately the ore body unprofitable to mind.
Paul Andersen: 18:39 So the mind pulled out a couple of years later, I moved to Aspen. That was 1984 and they’re at the Aspen Institute and an event. I ended up meeting with these three guys who were standing around. I introduced myself. They were all wearing suits and I told them that I just moved to aspen from crested butte. And one of them said, oh, well we serve on the board of the Amax Mining Corporation. And we were there with a mining proposal. I said, yeah, and, and the town we beat you. And he said, when was that? I said, that was in the, in the mid eighties. And he said, that’s when our molly division one to Africa. And it dawned on me that corporations will find a path of least resistance to acquire the raw materials for the consumer society. So even though we stopped them in crested butte Africa, then indoors where they have no pushback against big corporations because everybody’s on the take. They’re. So I learned a lot through that experience, but when I mainly learned was the value of standing up for a community for a cause that has, that, that is just
JJ Pinter: 19:42 your past is so interesting. And if you take a step back, there are, you know, I, I certainly have an affinity for, for veterans and for serving veterans. There are other populations or sub populations in our country or in our world that also I think certainly need people to serve them. I’m interested, you know, given your background it, and I don’t want to make assumptions here, so please tell me if I’m wrong, but it doesn’t sound like you had a lot of direct experience with veterans or, or members of the military that would cause you to have kind of a familial affinity. And so I’m wondering what it was that, that maybe caught your eye or, or caused you to look again when you started to hear about some of the challenges in the veteran community more so than you know, than, than other communities that that might exist. That also had served
Paul Andersen: 20:39 in world war two. He was a lieutenant in the navy, he studied communications and his story was that he was assigned to a ship in the Pacific and it took them about a year and a half to finally catch up to it. By the time he did it had been torpedoed and was in dry dock and and he ended up on shore patrol. That was his military experience. He had a great uncle who had been gassed in World War One and and had suffered terrible physical maladies as a result of that. That was about it for my family life as in the military during the Vietnam era. However, protesting the war, I began to read literature, so I, I read Philip Caputo is rumors of war. I read Tim O’Brien’s the things they carried. I, I began to take an interest in what I. those are both fantastical for me. I immersed myself in whatever literature I could find that would help me understand the situation and and and that led to me founding huts for vets in in 2013, but other demographics that need an experience in nature, at least in my opinion, are certainly corporate executives who make decisions in their board rooms that are often harsh on the natural world.
Paul Andersen: 21:46 I think having a personal relationship or rapport, if you will, with the natural world, with realizing the connectivity. Would that John, your described when he said, the more I learned about things, the more I see all things are hitched together, that we are all part of the same experience and life is our, is our common source, if you will. So corporate executives would be a prime clientele to offer nature experiences too. I think people with device addictions are another. The demographic that could really use a nature experience as an antidote to the plugged in nature of life today were screentime becomes this compulsion. It’s an obsessive compulsion with phones pumping is not only to respond to them, but how to respond. Our thinking is even being taken away. So I think having this antidote of nature is a curative, if you will, for an overt technological society and offering that as a solution to maybe breaking away from that, that conformity would be a huge help.
JJ Pinter: 22:55 You keep talking. I, I, to own big reader and you keep bringing up all these books that are very personal meanings to me. I have to tell you that the Philips Aptitude Book I was, I’m going to protect the innocent here, which, but I, I got it a little bit of trouble when I was in when I was in college and ended up having to read that book and write a series of essays based on it as my punishment for getting in some of those, some of that trouble. So obviously that book stands out to me. And then, you know, someone recommended I think, uh, I think it was my first summer in the Sierra by mirror and that was a book that really as like as like a midwesterner who has been a flatland are pretty much my entire life. I, there was something about that book that was just really incredible to me. Not only just the scenery that he described, but just the, it’s really about a way that you look at the world and in my opinion, and this, the zest with which mirror looks at everything. Like it’s the first time he seen it in just like this overwhelming sense of joy I find. I find really refreshing. One of the reasons I really appreciate that for sure.
Paul Andersen: 24:03 A consciousness about nature that was, that it was far deeper than scenery that you know, you’re in mind at when, when your was in the car. Initially he was, he was a sheep herder and he’s watching his, his so called locusts just devour all the wild flowers around him. And, and, and he’s, he’s, he’s observing this, this awesome landscape which was sublime and grand and vast and almost overwhelming in its magnitude. And, and one of the things he reflected in his writings about the Sierras, he’s sitting there on a, on a rock. His sheep are grazing around him and he’s got an ant on his, um, and it’s crawling around and he’s observing this aunt. So it wasn’t just the magnificent as he was observing, he was observing the microcosm as well, and he observed this amp get bites into his thumb and he just enjoys it and is it pinches his thumb and digs.
Paul Andersen: 24:59 It’s pinchers into his thumb and then piece by piece he plucks it apart and he says, even after he had plotted completely apart and only the head was there, it’s still held onto his thumb and he realized then that piece on the world was probably a far afar dream, but you can just imagine him plucking the legs off of this thing. I mean you was. Was It earthy guy? He had walked a thousand miles from Indiana to Florida right after the civil war. And, and witnessing the, the, the post civil war devastation of the south. He became deathly ill anyway. He eventually found his salvation in the Sierras and I think has real meaning when he founded the Sierra Club.
JJ Pinter: 25:44 So Paul, I want to transition and talk a little bit about what the experience is like when you take veterans into the mountains and new and new experience nature. And it’s a big kind of very lofty headier questions, so I’m going to try to maybe ask a series of of of more specific questions and then we can. We can dive in a little bit. What do you think when a, when a veteran signs up to come and join you on one of your trips. I know everyone is an individual so it’s hard to make generalizations but. But what is it normally that we are under that brings someone to you
Paul Andersen: 26:24 service for over 10 years and often hit a wall in their transition to civilian life. Some never make into civilian life. They are fed or prescribed handfuls of meds by the Va and often just cloaking
Paul Andersen: 26:44 symptoms not touching the cause. A lot of veterans complaining about being Zombie ised by those medications and they realized that they’re not making progress and so they’re looking for something that’s out of the box, something different. So they go to Hudson that’s and they see a wilderness experience that contains philosophical musings and discussions. It’s A. It’s a peer group of veterans so they know there’ll be among brothers and sisters and that they are in nature or maybe they’ve never really had a deep experience before, so I contact them after they’ve applied and one of the first things that most veterans say is, thank you. They say they don’t know what the program is going to be or how it’s going to affect them, but the first thing is an note of gratitude that anybody cares and I think that’s a critical thing for any program is to show that we do care about veterans, that veterans are not forgotten by this society or at least not by a lot of it.
Paul Andersen: 27:48 There is a sympathy for what veterans have endured. So then I described to them an opportunity that is difficult to describe. How do you explain to someone that you’re going to be reading poetry in the woods? How are you going to explain to a veteran that they will be reading shakespeare in a log cabin at 11,000, 300 feet? There’s nothing that they can relate to it. So I. I tell them basically you need to trust in this and we’re going to pay all of your expenses, including transportation come out that the worst case scenario is you’ll have a walk in the woods. You don’t have to speak. There’s nothing required of you except just to be there and be a healthy participant. So that’s how it starts.
JJ Pinter: 28:33 I’m interested and I’m going to overlay some of my personal experience on this, but then I can think I can, you know, I think I, I feel comfortable saying, and I speak for a lot of veterans here, the, there appears to be a cyclical kind of effect in as it relates to being outside in the woods and nature with, with a lot of veterans. So for me personally, when I was a kid, lived in the woods, spent a ton of time outdoors and really, really, really enjoyed it. And then joined the army, spent lots of time living outdoors and the army and the military could find a way to make that pretty miserable and a lot of experiences. And you know, so post military service I really lost. I didn’t have any desire to spend time in the wilderness. I’d kind of had my fill of sleeping outside and being cold and muddy and all of those types of things, and then I have kids who really like in their natural state to be outside and I find that for all of the reasons you described at the beginning of the podcast, they don’t get enough of that and they need more of that.
JJ Pinter: 29:41 Me and I start to spend time with them outdoors and I realized that I really do love being outdoors and it’s very important to me and I’m wondering if you see that or maybe if you’ve heard that from other people and in where people come to you at in that spectrum. I’m wondering if people kind of show up to you saying, Nah, I’m good. I like beds. I like sleeping where it’s nice and warm and good food and you’re able to. Your experiences, the one that is able to kind of get them off them and into really appreciating everything
Paul Andersen: 30:18 live in aspen and you step off the airplane and it’s like, wow, who are mountains here? It’s green. It’s beautiful, the air is cool, or at least it is on most summer days, but compared to a lot of places, it’s totally livable here, so there was this odd initially and then they meet our team which are our board and our staff and it’s like a family there are welcomed into a family fold and we take them up to where it base camp, which is a beautiful rural site on some agricultural land at a local rancher is letting us use and we have three large teepees set up there and that’s the accommodations. There was no cell service. There’s no electricity. It’s very laid back and quiet and peaceful and so they can dial down a bit and chuck off some of those. Some of those shields and some of those buffers that maybe they’ve been putting up against urban noise are against their lives wherever they live and the demands on them, so we take care of every need that they have and they sleep on the ground the first night, which is a connection that I think instill something of a humility in, in, in people.
Paul Andersen: 31:31 Then we get on the trail the next morning and we walked through this beautiful forest and we we learned about Shinran Yoku, which is a Japanese expression. It is a medicinal process in Japan where if you’re stressed and overworked and anxious, you go to your doctor and the prescription is Shinran Yoga, which translates literally to forest bathing. The prescription means that you go to a designated old growth forest in Japan and just be among the trees they’re taking in the energy that trees put out and it sounds a little woo woo, but scientists showing that exposure to nature reduces the stress Hormone Cortisol and it is proven now it’s going to come to the fore more and more. That nature healing is a way to go. So we take them into the woods. We teach them that what they can experience is beneficial and calming and beautiful. So Shinran Yoku becomes our first nature experience and we build from there into a more deepening experience in nature.
JJ Pinter: 32:37 I’m wondering that many veterans and then I, you know, this would extend beyond veterans when you start talking about some of the things that you’re doing, like poetry and Shakespeare. These are not things that they’re not only not things that people experience regularly. They’re not things that many have maybe ever experienced and I’m interested in what the reception is like when you start to introduce some of these darts, if you want to call it that, for lack of a better term. Some of these fine arts and and how long it takes people to. I’m wondering how long it takes people to kind of, you know, to get divorced from their phone and to get their brains ready to engage in this new content. It’d be stimulated in a way that they haven’t
Paul Andersen: 33:27 a comfort level with material that is foreign and I think a lot of veterans, a lot of service members have not been trained to be evaluative thinkers. They’re not necessarily trained to to question and wonder of the training is to do it. It’s not to be, but we’re human beings. We’re not human doings and to offer an experience of just being and so Shinran Yoga is just the start of it. It being in a forest and and being okay with just being not having to do something all the time, so then graduating the discussions through the readings that are assigned a month in advance. They’re sent out a month in advance of every program so the participants can read them and sort of interpret them on their own. These readings gradually deepen the experience, but for example, we read the St Crispin’s Day speech from Henry of Shakespeare and it’s a Rah Rah speech and a lot of veterans have heard Rah Rah speeches before, but the values that we discussed with the St Crispin’s Day speech were Henry the fifth is trying to rally his troops to attack a four to five French city.
Paul Andersen: 34:35 He says, when one of the his cousin Westmoreland eliminates, or if only we had more men from England who were, who were in bed today in England. If we had more men. Henry says, oh, no, no, no, no. We have. We have the right amount because we don’t want to share anymore honor with those men who would not be here with us, have their own, their own will. He says, we would not die in that man’s company that fears his fellowship to die with us. Then it becomes an understanding among veterans that this is how soldiers experienced more 600 years ago and the famous lines in that piece. We few, we happy few we band of brothers. That’s what we become on these hud trips is a band of brothers or a band of sisters. So there’s there, there develops this communal experience of exploring not only nature but the world of ideas and that’s what I think really forms a tribe and a tribe is, is it an essential part of of being a human being to feel like you belong to something and that’s what a lot of veterans lose when they’ve left their service.
Paul Andersen: 35:40 When they separated from their service. Isolation becomes a primary flight and I think drives a lot to suicide. So we really establish that bond. We do it through literature, do explorations of nature and to a common goal of working together on both of those fronts.
JJ Pinter: 36:00 I don’t want to embarrass myself here and I get this right, but there’s, you know, there’s a very famous kind of line that is quoted all the time in the military that, that many people don’t know comes from that St Christmas Day speech, you know, for, for heat today, who sheds his blood with me forever be my brother or something along those lines. Yeah, it’s been A. I’m a little rusty, but I, I do remember a little shakespeare, but what’s, what’s interesting to me is the things that you just spoke about, you know, this idea of, of isolation and, and, and being not being socially disconnected from people. And then this idea of missing kind of this service component in your life. And then you didn’t specifically talk about this, but I gotta imagine that when you’re hiking up to 11,000, 300 foot huts, there’s a tremendous amount of physical exertion that happens there. So this idea of like exercise and physical exertion and physical challenge. That’s what team RWB is, right? We are, we’re, we’re built on those, on those tenants and it’s face value. Our organization is, you know, not much like yours at all, but when you strip it down to the kind of core components and then you know, I think these are much more universal than, than even veterans. I think these are just kind of things, but they, the building blocks are very similar and that’s what he thinks that I think is so interesting is
Paul Andersen: 37:22 a veteran and a brilliant thinker and a great writer. He’s a great speaker. He talks about coming home from deployment and realizing, recognizing that American society is soft physically. There’s no edge there. There isn’t. There’s very little vitality. A lot of American society has to succumb to letting the machine do the work to not have a physically active or engaged life, to not have a physical challenge because it’s deemed that almost too primitive who entertained. So Stacy bare. We’ll use one of his writings in our, in our literature, and he reflects on this softness of American life and says veterans need something more of a physical nature. So we hike to the hut, it’s 10 miles, about 2,700 vertical feet. That’s a big walk. And for a lot of veterans who have, who have come home and have left their bodies go get, almost kills on, they are on the trail dying and struggling to get up that mountain and they have to summon their rebid, their physical energy and mental discipline and will to get to that hut because there’s no other option.
Paul Andersen: 38:33 There’s no evacuating them. They were on the trail. We have to get to the hut. So this physical rigor joins with an intellectual rigor in a sort of a synthesis at, in my opinion, elevates spirit. And that’s the idea behind our program really is addressing the whole person, the body, mind and spirit in one experience that’s only three days long. You know, bear in mind, this is a short term experience, but it’s one that I think open a door or a window of perspective to these veterans who have not had that for awhile or maybe have never had it. And realize that in order to be a healthy person and to be 100 percent for those they love and, and work for or, or give their lives to, they have to be 100 percent for themselves too. So that’s ideally what we, what we offer
JJ Pinter: 39:26 someone is listening to this and the things that we’re talking about. Again, like it, it, it, it may sound to some people they might listen to this, they might think, wow, that’s a little woo woo, right? You’re talking about Shakespeare, you’re talking about mirror, you’re talking about the row, you’re talking about being one with the forest. You’re talking about all of these things. But I bet there’s probably people who are listening who are sitting there and saying yes, like, yes, this is, this is what I need. They could obviously go check out huts for vets, but I’m wondering like if there is, is there a place for that reading? Is there something that you would recommend? Basic training
Paul Andersen: 40:04 immersion for a philosophical adventure. Bear in mind that as a species, we’ve. We lived a thousand times longer in wilderness settings and we have an industrial society. I mean, our whole being is, is, is I think in shock over what industrial society in the last just several hundred years has done to our life expectancy and to the stressors that, that we are under. I mean the agricultural revolution was only 10,000 years ago. The industrial technological life is new to us. I don’t think we’ve adapted very well and so to rekindle our deepest memories as ancient beings is something that I think wilderness does and it may be unconscious a lot of times. I think a lot of people will come through our program, are aware of the impact until even a couple of years out when they reflect on something and say, you know, there was some meaning there.
Paul Andersen: 41:03 There was something that it altered my, my way of looking at life and then they call or they email and they want to come back on a trip as a peer mentor or as a co-moderator. And we train them to do that and we invite them back as peer mentors so that they can help new commerce get into our mindset and into our pace on the trail. I think there’s this reconnection with something of a very deep roots in all of us and that’s why it’s important to look, to look at the context of human beings and nature, but huts prevents as a perfect opening. That’s it.
JJ Pinter: 41:42 No, you were, as we were talking about books here, there is a. You may have read this, but someone gave me a copy of a book called standing down and it’s a. it’s a compilation of selections by the Great Books Foundation. It’s someone put together of many of the classics and they’re. They’re short little snippets that that highlight kind of the universality of the war experience, you know, from, from ancient times to to now and I mean it’s everything from, from homer and Shakespeare and Walt Whitman and I’m trying to think. I mean hemingway and I mean it is. Anyways, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a fantastic place book. Someone gave me a copy of it and I find myself for a number of years and I find it really. I don’t know. Have you ever heard of this book
Paul Andersen: 42:34 ancillary? I just called it war stories. It’s based in the salt regional library where I live outside of Aspen. The library gives us a room to use and the idea is to have civilians and veterans attend a seminar discussion on the literature of war and share ideas across this huge divide that exists in this country between veterans and civilians. And we try to bridge that divide with discussions of these literary pieces from that book standing down and from others. So, uh, drawn from the poets of World War One, secrete a session, uh, Robert Graves and these, these poets, I mean, my God, what they wrote in World War One. It’s compelling and grim and difficult to read, but when you have civilians and veterans sharing ideas across the table, it opens a dialogue that is unique. And, and, uh, that’s another thing that we’re trying to do with huts for vets and in our community, uh, we realized that the veteran’s issues are not just about veterans, it’s about whole communities and it’s about healing whole communities. So to bring people together in a conversation about literature of war from the book that you mentioned and other sources is really key to moving on as a community.
JJ Pinter: 43:54 Well Paul, I think at the risk when we first. I have to share a little story here before we started recording this podcast, I was talking to Paul and we were talking about timelines and, and he asked me how long we will be talking for and I said, oh, probably 40 minutes. And he said, Oh man, I don’t know if we could talk, find anything to talk about for 40 minutes. Well we’ve been talking for over 50 minutes now and it and I could keep throwing questions at you weren’t there. So it’s amazing. Thanks for the time. Will Pass. You’re engaged in
Paul Andersen: 44:24 the opportunity to spew on here. I hope I haven’t gone on too much.
JJ Pinter: 44:28 Well, and you know, I don’t consider myself an interviewer. What I try to be is a attentive conversationalist. Is, is really what I. What I’ve come to it is like you described earlier, for me, I would probably look at my phone more than I should look at my computer more than I should and these podcasts are a great opportunity for me to put all of those things away and try to be 100 percent focused on the task at hand, which is listening to the person that I’m speaking with and to try to ask interesting questions and just to have a conversation because I, I, I find that the more that they sound like an interview, the less I liked them and the more that it sounds like two people talking, the more like them and I, I’ve also started. It’s really interesting. I used to really prepare extensively for these and I have stopped doing that because I find that I like to do my learning live, if that makes sense. I don’t understand something. I just added the skirt and I. The resistance.
Paul Andersen: 45:29 There was an idea that was put out by Robert Maynard Hutchins, former chancellor at University of Chicago in the 19 twenties who was one of the idea architects of the Aspen Institute from which Hotspur Vets Vases, it’s seminar experience, and he always referred to the great conversation of man, and that’s what you’re carrying on here, jj, and I appreciate being one of your conversions.
JJ Pinter: 45:53 Well Paul, thanks so much for your time today. I really appreciate it. I’m glad we were able to make this podcast happened. Keep up the good fight and if I’m going to link to huts for vets in the show notes here, so if anyone wants to go learn more about it, I would really appreciate that you could check it out and if you’re listening to this podcast and you’ve enjoyed it, I’d asked to to make sure that you, you like it, leave a comment and tell a friend about it because I think we’re having an important discussion here and discussion that’s maybe different than other places and we hope to be able to share some interesting ideas with people. So thanks so much Paul, and have a fantastic day.