Steve Charles—Friday morning I got an email from my friend Mark Shreve ’04—a link to photos of a spiral staircase Nic Bitting ’07 and his colleagues at Seattle Stair and Design are building in a place called Highbarn.
The grandson of a woodworker, Nic was an art major and sculptor here at Wabash. Good writer, too. We’ve published his essays and his article on Geoff Faerber ’98, founder of Flying Pig Adventures, where Nic learned to pilot and guide whitewater rafts down the Yellowstone River during the summers between his Wabash semesters.
Nic’s long-time friend Kyle Long ’07 once described to me his amazement watching Nic, who knew nothing about rafting when he showed up at Geoff’s door, confidently pilot a raft-full of people—parents, kids, grandparents—safely down that river, so far from where he grew up. He learned the river, he learned the people, he learned to love the work and
But when you look at this work he’s doing Seattle Stair and Design, you can’t help but feel he’s found at least a part of his calling. I hear he’ll be headed to grad school soon to study it further. We hope to have a gallery of his work in the 39 Under 39 issue of Wabash Magazine.
Friday afternoon began with a call to Zach Hoover ’01—an interview for that same 39 Under 39 issue. Zach’s family is a big reason I came to work at Wabash and was able to stay. His mom, Janet, now a pastor in Indianapolis, was a colleague of mine at the magazine where I used to work; she found the ad for the editor’s position here. She was my copyeditor for the first couple years of Wabash Magazine, and when she and her husband Jerry noticed that my old Volkswagen bus kept breaking down whenever I dropped off the manuscripts for proofing and realized that I might not be able to make my daily commute from Indy to Wabash much longer, they “sold” me their late model Corsica at a ridiculously cheap price for “whatever you think you can pay each month.”
Zach comes from exceptional folks; he’s carried on their legacy in his own way, one of several guys (including Jeremy Bird ’00 and Kyle Hall ’00) to go through Harvard Divinity and then find ways to serve they couldn’t have imagined when they were here at Wabash.
Zach is a community organizer in California, currently with LA Voice, working with churches, synagogues, and other groups to help communities survive, thrive, and realize their dreams in the context of something greater than themselves. He talks about walking alongside these people, thinking with them, listening. He explains how he got the job, and you can see it in a video on You Tube:
“I was in my third year of divinity school and trying to decide what I was going to do next. I Googled something like ‘faith,” “justice,” and “community,” and “San Francisco Organizing Project” came up. I read the job description and thought, That pretty much sounds like me.”
He says he believes he has found his vocation. At least for now.
Zach said this in his Commencement Speech at Wabash in May 2001: “If we can smash together, mate the partners whose names are think, reflect, actualize, and do, then we will bless others and we will bless ourselves, even in the brokenness of relationships, forgiveness, mistakes, and lives. Perhaps we will sweeten our world.”
Zach is sweetening our world. His own, too. Her name is Saskia, and he married her in December. She’s originally from Nicaragua, I believe, but named after Rembrandt’s wife (read the magazine to get the story on that one.) And Zach is also a cyclist and road racer in California.
We’re all pilgrims, really, whether we’re on the move physically or just emotionally or spiritually—always looking for home. My friend Kyle Nickel ’03 was on the road last year, spent some time in Colorado after a taste of grad school in Georgia (where he had a part time job as a groundskeeper at Andalusia Farm, Flannery O’Connor’s old place. He sent me a vial of soil from there that I’ve kept nearby as I’ve been re-reading her works this year.) I hadn’t heard from nor seen him for a year, so getting together with him, Nate Mullendore ’07, and art professor Doug Calisch was both a relief and joy.
“Making literature and craft beer back home in Connorsville” is the way one of Kyle’s friends describes the latest chapter of Kyle’s life. He seems to be thriving. And, if the writing he just sent me for the next issue of WM is any indication, writing better than ever.
I realized part way through the conversation with these three that I was the odd man out; they’d all traveled together before on Doug’s photography immersion trips out west. Doug and Nate work together with the Friends of Sugar Creek, where Nate is project coordinator. And as we were sitting on the banks of that creek, enjoying beer at the Creekside Inn, the late Mike Bachner’s daughter Fern stopped by our table, and I was reminded that in a few weeks we’ll be dedicating the Mike Bachner Reserve, a new nature preserve and great place to put your canoe or kayak in the creek—the same creek that drew Mike to Wabash and kept him here for more than three decades.
Doug had to leave early the next morning to set up an exhibit of his work in southern Indiana, Nate’s evening was just beginning and us old guys weren’t a helpful part of that, and Kyle had a two-hour drive ahead of him to get home to Connorsville. So after a couple hours of catching up, laughing, reminiscing (including some memories of Mike and the chickens that used to guard the lights at his barn), and some talk about Flannery O’Connor, we said goodbye in the parking lot around 11.
My head was spinning, and it wasn’t the Newcastle I’d enjoyed an hour earlier. I’ve either written about or published the work of all three of these guys. I learn something knew every time I read or see how they come at the world.
A somewhat reclusive and certainly introverted type, I can’t believe I have job that has led me to friends, conversations, and good times like these. To spend an hour talking to people who are changing the world like Zach Hoover is. To receive casual emails that open my eyes to a new kind of beauty. To catch up with a friend and find he’s taken an even wiser direction than I’d imagined, and can still write circles around me. And most of this work being done by guys I knew first as students here at Wabash.
The men in my family have always been travelers. We rarely feel completely at home anywhere. But a day like this in the company of these Wabash men gets me awful close. Driving home I thought of William Stafford’s line from his poem “Grace Abounding,” one I’ve though of often since I‘ve been here at Wabash—“I am saved in this big world by unforeseen friends.”