Stan Tag, faculty member from Fairhaven College on Patagonia

22 February 2005/
Bellingham, WA

Dear Steve and Pat,

Thank you for your recent letter reflecting on the possibilities for the Patagonia Practicum Center. Your plans are inspiring and exciting and I hope they will unfold even better than you can imagine.

Thank you for your generous gift in bringing us all together at the Circle Z Ranch. For me, it was a time of deep personal reflection and an opening out into the lives of so many other intriguing people and a place full of ordinary marvels. I came to Patagonia the way I hope others will come—–open to experience all that there is to experience in such a place. And yet I did not take the trip to Nogales or the San Pedro River or to the Tohono Oodham (reservation), or even into Patagonia for the evening festivities.

It was enough to just barely begin to absorb the intricacies of Sonoita Creek, which I spent one morning walking down for a couple of miles, gathering trash, watching birds, feeling the cold water on my feet and legs in contrast to the heat of the sun on my face. I climbed the butte above the Circle Z and lay there in the silence and sun for an hour, wrote a poem, and studied the quiet presence of the plants and rocks around me. A reminder that from that place, or any place, there are as many ways as there are radii from the center of a circle (Thoreau); a sky island (a term I learned on this trip) is a marvelous place to feel such centeredness and the richness of multiple possibilities.

I also rode horses—–on Joe, a feisty but dependable alpha male—–and tried to feel the rhythms of the animal, the way Joe walked, trotted, loped, turned his head, reached for grass, spooked at the sudden appearance of a cow, deftly chambered up and over rocks, or sidled slowly and deliberately down steep trails. I remember the talk Tony gave us up on the hillside, after a long ride, describing the geologic origins of this landscape and the dialogue between the various plant groupings and that reminder to me of how little I really know about my own planet. Again, another of Thoreau’s lines comes to mind:

“The universe is wider than our views of it.”

So, no matter how much we say at a conference on a Patagonia Field Center, and no matter how good and wise those words and discussion are, the universe is still wider than whatever we say or think. This gives me hope. And I suppose what I hope most for your endeavor is the possibility of these transformative insights into what it means to be human, to be a creature on a planet spinning through space, to live a finite life in an infinite world.—–So I was excited by all this talk of the great narrative and found myself trying to articulate my own. I was excited about the emphasis on transformation, or at least creating possibilities for transformations. As I said in one of the large group meetings, this makes me think about seeds. A seed is (to quote Fay Givens) the universe unfolding. The Patagonia Field Center should be a place that plants seeds, nurtures seeds, helps them to unfold. And by seeds we may say students, or teachers, or anyone who wants to grow. Loren Eiseley once wrote:

“If man is to seek happiness, he must grow outward into the world he has
discovered. He must pass the borders of his own being. He must dream with the
dreaming greatness of the vast multicolored shape of life itself, not of man, nor of
serpents, but of that enormous whole that contains them, as it contains lovers and
the wandering stars and the enormous freedom to change.”

From The Lost Notebooks of Loren Eiseley

It is that process of growing outward into the world that is at the heart of what you have envisioned. I agree that it begins with learning what it means to be in the natural world, our home. It also entails learning what it is to be in a multicultural world, living in diversity, finding ways to respect, honor, learn from, and make peace with those who differ. Anything you can do to create these experiences will be good.

As you can see, I have little to say about your organizational plans. They seem thoughtful and sound, but to me the most important things are the transformations that happen in people, and they can happen through chaos as well as in a well-structured environment. Too many institutions begin with creative and powerful visions, and then evolve toward sustaining the status quo. How do you keep the Patagonia Field Center fresh? How can it evolve and change? How can you keep your deepest goals——personal and communal transformation—–at the forefront?

It is dangerous to give someone who likes to write a blank journal. I loved carrying around my black book and what happened in it is hard to explain. I broke out of my need to chronicle events as they happen and just started writing down words, as I heard them during the conference or as they came to me, and left huge white spaces on the pages to be filled in as the week evolved. Nearly every page has one central or key word and then lots of notes or sketches or quotes. Here is my list of words as they fall in the journal:

Mind / Body / Spirit:——————–“Flow”
Work:———————————“my work is glory” (Mary Oliver)


Field—Education—-Center—“there are as many ways as there are radii from
the center of a circle”

Web———————————–“only connect”

Native Intelligence

Home———————————“ecology: the study of home, oikos”

Complexity ————————–“if you like complexity” (Tony)

Slow————————————“We are moving too fast” (Steve)

Space———————————–“S + pace = stan’s pace = space”

Great Narrative

Organizing Principles—————“follow nature”




Seeds————————————-“the universe unfolding”

Questions——————————-“inquiry-based education”

Experience———–“an experience rather than a curriculum”

Collaboration—“working together/creating together/ inspiring each other”


Transformation—–“education is a process that changes the learner”


Performance—————————-“field study road show”


Borders———-“walls turned sideways are bridges”

Circle Z

Soul—————————————“a butterfly”


Sustenance——————————“what feeds us”

The Good Life

Garden———————————–“a garden is a church” (Dara)

I love words, and realize that they too have evolved out of the same processes that have created the earth and redwood trees and red efts and orange juice, and you and me.—–Mostly what I want to say to you both, Pat and Steve, is to keep making your dream come alive. Someday I hope to bring students to Patagonia. Not now, for I’m immersed in writing a book on Katahdin, Maine’s highest mountain, and am enjoying my sabbatical as a time to slow down and reflect on my own life more deeply than I have in a long time. Though I would love to join you all in July for your planning, I already have other commitments (teaching 2 summer courses in Bellingham).

I will do all I can to connect our students to the programs and opportunities you are offering. Thank you again for bringing me to Patagonia: the smells still live inside me, and the conversations, horse rides, and collective inspiration. Keep bringing people together. In a world in which world leaders resort to violence, it is essential that we do not succumb to the fear and blindness that leads to such acts. Patagonia is now part of my own geography of hope.

In peace,