Stanford University Essay

The dilemma is this: It is important for humans to move forward and learn from their mistakes and not to hold on to the dogma of their forefathers. Therefore traditions are dangerous if followed to blindly. But mankind’s celebration of change is, in and of itself, a tradition. People have been moving themselves forward and teaching their children how to do so as long as there has been life. So among the most pervasive traditions of all are some that in fact limit tradition’s grip on our lives. My favorite tradition is one of these.
For as long as I can remember, I have known the Nine Quarter Circle Ranch. It is a small, rustic dude ranch near Big Sky, Montana, and my family and I have spent our summer vacations there ever since I was a little boy. My first visit there was as a five year old. We stayed for a week. And for eleven summers since, I have dusted off the cowboy boots, said goodbye to complicated city living, and boarded the plane to my Rocky Mountain paradise.
Every year we go back the same week. Everyone does. So it is the same basic group of people, year after year. Since everyone picks up where they left off with each other 51 weeks before, our relationships progress and grow stronger, just as they would with anyone in the outside world, only at 1/52 the speed.
These yearly reunions have been an important part of my life. They provide me with yearly reference points – a time to gage the ways that I have changed, and to ponder the directions I would like to go in the coming year. They are reference points because it is the referencing of my outside life with my ranch life that provides insight. In ranch time, it has only been a day since I last moseyed on over to the barn to go horseback riding. But in real time, I have a year more of growth and discovery that I might not be fully aware of. That first day of the week, I become aware of this change almost instantly. This new wisdom helps me to look ahead to the coming year – to ponder the obstacles that lie ahead, and the choices that I will be faced with. It is a time to think about my relationships with people back home and to set goals for the year.
My visits to the ranch have also made me acutely aware of change by my changing appreciation for the world around me. I think about a bright, crisp, windy afternoon, two summers ago. My good friend, Dan, and I decided to see how quickly we could climb Mt. Lincoln, a nearby summit. It was a trail both he and I had traveled too many times to count. But as I looked out over that valley on that afternoon – the sun setting over the mountains, the horses grazing in the pastures miles away, the pink clouds kissing away the daylight – I had the feeling that I knew for the first time what raw, untamed beauty really was. It was almost too much to bear. I was filled with an unequivocal sense of happiness. I started laughing uncontrollably. Dan did not ask why. He knew. We just sat there on the mountaintop – celebrating ourselves and the life all around us; honored to live in a world as wondrous as this.
I am so thankful that my parents have made our trips to the ranch a tradition. In such a complicated fast-paced world, I need to pause occasionally, think about who I am, how I have changed, and how I would like to change. The ranch has helped to keep me grounded in an increasingly tumultuous world.
Chris Ayer 1999