January 2010


II received an interesting email this morning from my wife with a link to an article In the Smithsonian’s online publication. 

Her email’s subject was very sweet and pointed:“Nice article about Lafayette… not such a bad place. :-)”  I opened the link.

There was the article. Sticking Around Lafayette Indiana, written by one of our local Purdue academics, who has become a published author of note, Patricia Henley. Ms. Henley is a professor of creative writing at Purdue University. She is also a native Hoosier. More importantly, she’s a reluctant native who has come to grips with her reluctance. She’s also found that living with it is quite survivable.

I, like Ms. Henley, am a native born Hoosier. Unlike her, my roots to Lafayette are of a closer proximity. Some 35 miles to the west, I grew up – up and down – the banks of one of the states premiere free-flowing streams. I dearly loved that stream and the wooded hills that were my childhood home in my formative years.

But, when I graduated from our consolidated High School, as a freshly minted ‘Indian’, my feet could not move fast enough to make tracks out of the Hoosierland. 

I landed on the left coast, as many of my generation, but I went there to further my formal education, not necessarily by carnal imaginings. The residuals of a motorcycle accident at the tail-end of my high school Junior year, rescheduled my plans for an early departure. This peradventure provided my first glancing blow with Purdue.

Following a seven year wandering amid the hills and hollers of the homeground of so many Hoosiers – I returned home. Once again I returned to my roots, this time with a wife and young child in tow.

This homeground reunion was not on pleasant terms.

My father had been killed in an accident and offspring duties beckoned. The ‘plan’ was to remain for not more than 5 years and either return to ‘briar country’ or likely answer the call of the beckoning pillars of the Rocky Mountains.

That was 31 years ago.

A far nobler scribe once penned, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley”‘. So, too, have the wonders of lust for this wee warren mouse. Though I’ve worked feverishly to rewrite the words of the famous countrypolitan’s song, ‘Texas In My Rear View Mirror’, to navigate my way out of Hoosierville, on a fast-track, it has not happened. 

I reckon, I too, am a victim of ‘terminal escape velocity’. 

Ms.Henley spoke of the effort locally, “…underway to clean up … the Wabash River”.  Interestingly, it was the genesis of this effort, for which I played a largely invisible, but pivotal,  part that was also my own, Hoosier perspective, turning point. 

In 1990 I returned to Purdue to acquire a degree. My ‘go card’ – which I had consciously avoided for 15 years – beckoned. Fisheries was my mission. But a combination of a arithmophobia and the realization of 12 year vision took over all else. I was introduced to the budding shoots of what became the Internet, in the first semester of my Freshman year and everything else was reordered.

Between a 1994 empty-folder-walk across the Memorial Hal stagel; 2.5 years of wallowing -sans life jacket – in the Bloodpools of Technology; 8 years struggling with the forces of academic bĂȘtise; 5 years finding footing amid the slippery-slopes of natural resource advocacy and the first 2 years of a life with MCS, I got that degree.

Something else came along about the same time.  Purpose for being a Hoosier and a reason to stay.

In the late fall of 1994 I began a regular habit of kayaking the Wabash for training and stress relief, that quickly gave way to pleasure. Amid the hundreds of hours on the water, I met several people. People who were canoeing, kayaking, walking, fishing, watching. People with whom I shared one very strong commonality: we all enjoyed the river. 

It occurred to me that when people are personally involved with anything, that the ‘anything’ becomes important to them. Important enough for them to get personally – physically! – involved. This realization lead to a tagline I have used since then.

“People will see the need, when they feel the need.” 

With this in hand I worked with others to introduce people to paddling the river. We didn’t get throngs to the water.  But we never had a failure either. Each person, no matter how reluctant they were in the beginning – within minutes of entering the water surface continuum that is so much a part of canoeing or kayaking the waterways – became a lasting convert the first time out.

Once people touch ‘it’ they are hooked.They could not -won’t! – let go of ‘it’. They loft ‘it’ into high value status. Over time they begin to realize, just what ‘it’ is.  They begin to realize the ‘it’ is not the river.  ‘IT’… is life. 

This is what the Wabash River gave to me. Something I already knew, but was unwilling to admit. That a good ‘life’, a fun ‘life’, an interesting ‘life’… yes, even a ‘life’ with fulfillment and enjoyment, is readily available anywhere. All you need is purpose. 

Amazingly I found velocity for change to be anti-terminal and a great escape. Even in Lay-Flat Indiana

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