A New Way of Seeing


More photos and journal entries from the "Summer Photography Immersion Trip"
Contact Prof. Calisch



Ask a student from Professor Doug Calisch’s photography course what comes to mind when he thinks of Kansas, and he’s likely to say “hula hoops.”

Bill Watson ’71 should be pleased.

The president and CEO of American Water Purification, whose avocation is conserving his state’s tall grass prairie, used the hula-hoop to make his point to 12 Wabash students he welcomed to his weekend house in El Dorado, Kansas—that there’s a lot more to the state’s landscape than most “drive-by” tourists think.

Caleb Selby ’04 can still quote Bill from memory:

“If you were to throw a hula hoop out on the unplowed Kansas prairie you would find the most diverse ecosystem in the United States.”

“I wanted to share the prairie with them—one of the most beautiful ecosystems in the country, but also one of the least appreciated,” Watson says. So he invited Calisch and his students to camp by a creek on his 200-acre family farm at the western edge of the tall grass prairie. He, his wife, Mary Helen, and daughter, Sarah, hosted the group for steaks on the grill and a most-welcome swim in the pool. Then he arranged for them to experience the Flint Hills—the largest contiguous section of tall grass prairie remaining in the U.S.—in the way it ought to be seen: by horseback.

“You move slowly enough to see the land close-up and take it in, but you’re up high enough to see the immensity of it,” Watson says. “Appreciating the prairie requires a new way of seeing.”

“The views were unmatched by anything I’d seen before, and the whole experience was incredible,” says Ryan Smith ’03, who gave the group an even better chance to see prairie grasses up close after he dropped his $700 camera during the ride. Thirty minutes of searching by five guys found the camera intact and Smith’s appreciation for the size of the prairie—and the patience of his classmates—deepened.

“We had a great time with the group,” Watson says. “And perhaps I was able to instill the beauty of the prairie in these guys’ hearts and minds. They are the leaders of tomorrow; I consider it a deposit for the future.”

“Bill’s knowledge and fervor for the prairie land has inspired many of us,” Shaylan Owen ’05 wrote in his journal as the group headed farther west.

Watson was one of 11 alumni who hosted the College’s immersion photography class during their three-week round-trip from Crawfordsville to Colorado and dozens of points in-between. Calisch had written to alumni along his planned route six months earlier to find out if any of them would be interested in hosting students. He also wanted suggestions for learning opportunities in the area. Calisch says the response of alumni was encouraging.

“People who hadn’t had contact with the College in years offered their help, and their ideas really enriched our itinerary,” Calisch says.

The alumni hospitality bridged generations and set up some of the more teachable moments on the trip.

John Panozzo ’89 led the students in an assault on the summit of Long’s Peak, the most physically demanding day of the excursion. Although dangerous weather halted the attempt at 13,000 feet, Owen was elated by the experience.

“The intensity of the day’s events instilled in me an intense respect for Colorado’s majestic peaks, and instilled in all of us a higher faith in our own abilities,” Owen wrote.

“I was totally impressed with the way these guys gelled as a team, and when they set up and took down camp, they would have made the U.S. Cavalry proud!” says Panozzo, who spent four days with the group. “Any time you get to climb a 14’er, that’s a memorable thing, and to do it with these guys made it even better. It was really comforting to know that these guys could have been my friends when I was at Wabash.”

“One thing that bothered me about Wabash when I was there was that there was very little influence outside of Indiana,” Panozzo says. “I wanted to show these guys things they’d never seen before, do things they’d never done.”

An amateur photographer himself, Ernie Lewis ’58 hosted the group in Estes Park, Colorado, welcoming students to his home and renting the Wild Basin Lodge for a dinner with one of the state’s top nature photographers, James Frank. He also arranged for Frank to spend a day in the park with the class.

“Nature photography isn’t the focus of what I do, but the technical information and his approach to composition were very helpful,” says Shay Atkinson ’04.

Owen was impressed by the attention to detail in Lewis’s home—made from a variety carefully selected woods—and appreciated the paintings, Navajo rugs, and Pueblo pottery there.

“He made us feel so welcome,” Owen says. He and Lewis continue to correspond and trade favorite photographs of the area.

“It’s good to feel a part of the College in some way other than sending a check,” Lewis says. “We were able to trade stories about things they’d done on campus, some of the pranks, and they sounded similar to the ones I’d been involved in many, many years ago.

“It’s the young men attending Wabash who are the College, not the reports and write-ups you get, and this was a chance to get to know that College,” says Lewis. “This makes it a much more personal thing.”

Students seemed to appreciate alumni involvement, whether it was Panozzo leading them up Long’s Peak or Tom Vernon ’52 hosting them in his family’s vineyard earlier in the trip.

“The Columbia vineyard is great,” Matt Hagen ’05 wrote after the group’s first night with the Vernons. The retired University of Missouri professor is also co-owner with his son of a restaurant, which served the group 20 pounds of ribs.

“That meal really raised my expectations for meals for the rest of the trip!” Hagen added.

The quality of meals dipped the next night, but the group’s growing realization that, as Wabash men, they are part of a larger group that spans the country, did not.

“The hospitality has been nearly overwhelming,” Trevor Hall ’03 wrote. “The value of the trip would be a lot less without the generosity of the people who have helped us along the way.”

And Watson’s hopes that the students’ “way of seeing” could be enhanced to appreciate the Kansas landscape he loves should be bolstered by this final journal entry from Kyle Nickel ’03:

Day 21 Clinton State Park, Kansas
“While I have marveled at the novelty and immensity of mountains and canyons and dunes and deserts, have felt privileged to leave my footprints there and was sad that I could not stay, the west Kansas ground has touched me differently. It is as though I have been homesick for that empty creek bed and its endless line of sturdy cottonwoods all this time and not known where my soul yearned for until my boots made their way through the sagebrush and cactus. It must have been the isolation, the solitude, the beauty of simplicity.”