From the Editor
May 11, 2005
When his kidneys failed and his bruised skin would tear at the touch like purple tissue paper, my father found comfort in memory. He recalled childhood backcountry expeditions with his father and brothers into the New Mexico wilderness of the 1930s, gliding down the mountain under a full moon with aspen branches dragging on the snow between his legs to slow the descent, the effort and the exhilarationwarming him against the chill of the late winter night.
I took refuge in the slowing of days; the surprising strength of Dad's grip on my hand as he pulled himself out of bed to his walker; one long Wednesday morning when he woke before dawn, I played my songs for him, and sunlight spread over his dresser to the ceramic "Bob's Sleighing Bank" that we used to fill with change when I was young.
He remembered the French ski racer he followed down the mountain run after run as a teenager just to learn his technique. He told us the philosophy the man left with him: "You dance with the mountain, you dance to the mountain; the mountain doesn't dance to you."
The day before he died, Dad had a vision. He spoke of "peregrining—between the clouds. High up. Banking left, right."
I had to look up the word.
Peregrine: a wanderer, a pilgrim on a long journey.
When I returned to Crawfordsville, the brothers of Beta Theta Pi were holding a memorial service in the Chapel for Ryan Champion, a sophomore with "a talent for making memories for those around him," killed in a car accident on U.S. 231. A month later I served as an acolyte in the funeral of longtime Montgomery County Councilman Marsh Jones '50.
I never imagined that in January we'd lose Jeremy Wright '96- the most amazing and beautiful combination of scholar, runner, adventurer, and friend the College has ever seen—to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
But two weeks after Dad's memorial service, I was raking leaves when I heard strange cries coming from the sky. I jumped into our CR-V and began the chase down Water Street to Chestnut and south down U.S. 231, following the chattering cries and glancing up through the sunroof.
It was a large flock of sandhill cranes at high altitude, the light reflecting off of their wings so that they disappeared whenever they banked to the south and reappeared turning west. They were ascending rapidly. A few miles south of town they vanished into blue. Their disappearance left me with a yearning too strong for the moment.
I wondered about that reaction until I got to the office the next day and read a poem I'd pinned to my bulletin board years ago.
Watching Sandhill Cranes
Spirits among us have departed-friends,
relatives, neighbors; we can't find them.
If we search and call, the sky merely waits.
Then some day here come the cranes
planing in from cloud or mist-sharp,
lonely spears, awkwardly graceful.
They reach for the land; they stalk
the ploughed fields, not letting us near,
not quite our own, not quite the world's.
People go by and pull over to watch. They
peer and point and wonder. It is because
these travelers, these far wanderers,
plane down and yearn in a reaching
flight. They extend our life,
piercing through space to reappear,
quietly, undeniably, where we are.
from Even in Quiet Places
I find little solace in images of heaven and "souls gone to be with the Lord." It seems a wishful invention to me, and it doesn't mesh with my understanding of my Christian faith. If there's to be a resurrection for those I've lost, I believe it is yet to come.
But I find refuge in Stafford's words, in my father's peregrinations, in the kindness of friends who have allowed me to grieve, in the cranes' guttural cries and light reflecting off vanishing wings. There I find hope.
WHERE DO YOU FIND REFUGE? We asked that question of Wabash faculty, students, and alumni, and you'll read their well-considered responses here.
But this issue is as much about giving safe haven as finding it. Or finding it in some unexpected places. And Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Dunn cautions us to beware of "refuges that are just watering holes on the way to nowhere."
You'll find the liberal arts thread through it all to be the challenge of embracing change—as much a way of life for ecologist Dave Krohne as it is for Buddhist monk Tan Jotipalo '88. I find myself learning from their stories—I hope you'll consider sharing your own with us in future issues.