The best way to understand why Jim Tolstrup does what he does is to stand outside in a field of grass on a cool morning. Feel the breeze. Smell the sweet clarity of the air. Listen to the birds and insects and rustling of the grass. Taste your cool breath as you exhale. And look at the way that the land stays so still, not plodding ahead, not running amok. You might find, when you stop and look, that the land tells you what you love. And why you live.
Finding peace in nature
A quiet, contemplative, reverence hangs around Jim Tolstrup. He’s a tall, slender man with warm eyes and child-like smile. And the way he walks, the way he moves, has an ethereal, almost floating quality to it. Essentially, there’s something transcendent about him, something unique and entirely welcoming. He is a peaceful presence. And that tranquility pervades his speech too. He is careful and thoughtful with his every word. He speaks with enthusiasm that is tempered in tone. He doesn’t interrupt or trample those with whom he converses. He’s a wellspring of observation and spirituality. He’s a shaman, a mentor and a herald. And when it comes to the environment, Jim Tolstrup is the peaceful, wizened warrior who takes up arms because the stakes are great. He’s the retired samurai reluctantly returning to battle.
As a director at the Shambhala Mountain Center, Jim Tolstrup teaches courses in Buddhism, meditation, and in cultivating a sacred perception of the environment. And if you’re having a tough time swallowing the samurai comparison, one of the classes Jim teaches at Shambhala is called Birth of the Warrior. Of course, it’s not THAT kind of warriorship, instead it’s about developing fearlessness, confidence, openness and gentleness towards ourselves and our world. In short, you probably won’t spot Jim Tolstrup catching flies with chopsticks or any of the other dated, careless cliches, but he embodies the path of the samurai. His sword is knowledge. And his most powerful strike is through education.
But, Jim doesn’t wear his accomplishments on his sleeve. Really, he might never tell you unless you asked and asked and asked. In fact, the best way to learn about Jim Tolstrup might just be to listen to the quiet that is around him. There’s a story Jim told us a few months ago, and it just summed him to a tee. He had gone out one morning to meditate, something he does every day, but this time he decided to go and sit among a group of Occupy Wall Street protesters. Jim just wanted to feed his curiosity and, hopefully, lead by peaceful example. While he meditated, his eyes closed and his mind turned inward, it began to rain. And the rain coming down was soaking him, even putting out his incense. But, amazingly, and without prompt, a few of the protesters, one a Vietnam veteran, laid their blankets and coats over his back. Jim didn’t ask, but they were moved to aid him. Sometimes the quietest voice is the most heard.
Knowing and protecting the land
Jim Tolstrup will speak loudly, he will take up his sword, when it comes to the health (and our understanding) of the environment. A gardener and guardian of the land for his entire life Jim holds extreme reverence for the Earth, and he is heroically prescient of the impact humanity has on it. Add in his background and practice of Buddhism and there is a spiritual drive that informs his work at his day job. Jim is the Executive Director for High Plains Environmental Center, a nonprofit “suburbitat” outside Loveland, CO, where residents, visitors, and kids can learn about the relationship between people and the land they occupy. HPEC offers its guests the chance to experience nature without it being a protected “Keep Out” sort of space. And studies show that spending time in nature, away from the bustling chaos of the city (or even the ‘burbs) will markedly improve your health. You see, Jim Tolstrup just never stops teaching. He never stops passing on knowledge. Each group of visitors and volunteers, no matter how briefly, enter his tutelage and gain access to not only the facts and figures he knows, but also the connection with the land that he has so fully taken to heart.
Awards and Honors
- ASLA Land Stewardship Award 2009
- Denver Water Xeriscape Award, 2000
- ALCC Excellence in Landscaping, Merit Award 2000
- ALCC Excellence in Landscaping, Merit Award 1998