Arriving in Aspen, one feels immediately healthier in the freshness of the thin air at 8,000 feet.
This isn't simply good fortune, or happenstance, but the product of careful planning and decades of cultural and political cultivation. And certainly good fortunes and serendipity play a role as well.
I have just arrived in Aspen to participate in the extraordinary experience known as the Socrates Seminars.
And I can't help but feel exuberant here amid the bright early chill of this lush green meadows surrounded by rocky peaks caressed by the dawn sun.
Among the Bauhaus style lodgings and seminar rooms, scores of participants from across the country will spend the next three days in one of five seminars each morning, spend the afternoons recreating - rafting, horseriding, hiking or listening to world-class orchestral notes at the popular Music Tent - and engrossed in evening conversations.
The event is really an intellectual phantasmagoria - a rapid romp of the mind [and body, for those who normally dwell at sea level] and soul through a selection of classical and contemporary topics with peers from the professional world.
This is the twelfth year of the program, which has always held its original seminars in this time frame, around the Independence Day holiday, and in recent years has accelerated its offerings with a Presidents' weekend winter edition, and others during the year.
All told, more than 1,200 individual participants have attended Socrates Seminars - including some 400 in 15 seminars during 2007 alone under the leadership of Executive Director Mark Chichester in his first full year at that role.
While the tradition of the Institute goes back to 1945, when Chicago businessman Walter Paepcke visited the declining town of Aspen, Co., and was stricken with the notion it could be rejuvenated as a cultural and intellectual retreat. He then thrust it in that direction, founding the institute in 1950, later following up with the Aspen Music Festival and the Aspen International Design Competition.
Socrates itself, though, is the inspired brainchild of Gary and Laura Lauder.
Noting a lack of early and mid-career participation in Aspen Institute and inspired by the growing changes brought by technology and the emerging commercialization of the Internet, the Lauders persuaded the Institute to launch Socrates now a dozen years ago.
Today, returning to the program for most perennial participants feels like a combination of a homecoming, a university reunion, a bootcamp and a weekend college 'cram' study session preparing for exams.
Each year brings a few stalwart multi-year participants like Peter Hirshberg, one of a cast of leading digerati who is generally recognized as attending the most seminars from the outset, and dozens of 'newbies' often with extraordinary experiences and qualifications, including 15 scholarship-awardees this year.
Yes, it is also partly an indulgence. Yet it is an indulgence that frequently changes the course of careers and refines objectives of present and future leaders of our country.
Both Barack Obama and John McCain have spoken at events surrounding Socrates in recent years.
And this years seminars are all timely: "Media and Conflicting Values", "Ethnic Conflict and International Security", "The intersection of Foreign Aid with Security, Morality and Business", "Humanity, Power, Leadership", and "Sexuality, Power and Culture."
The Socrates folks have me in the last of these - and the first day's reading (more on this) is an eye-opening and broad foundation ranging from celibacy to cultural profligacy, where victims are not hard to discover, nor are the egregious violence brought on them easy to forget.
The discussions are often intense, and always private - yet this year I've been welcomed to blog from the seminars.
I can hardly wait.